Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Christmas Traditions Revisited: Hope, Healing, & Happiness

Over the years I've blogged about our Christmas traditions - the ones my family had growing up, and the ones I started with my own little family.  Even though last Christmas we spent time with the hubs & the little one, he & I were only dating then.  So, this will be our first Christmas together as a married couple and as a blended family.  That being said, we've had a few conversations about traditions.  Which ones either of us have done, which ones we plan to continue, and new ones we hope to start.

I believe traditions are important, especially for the kids.  Traditions bring stability.  They are things kids know they can count on regardless of anything else that is going on around them.  They can bring hope in otherwise hopeless situations and provide healing, especially if the family has experienced some sort of recent trauma.  I believe, just as important as having traditions, involving children in the decision of creating traditions is also important.  I also believe that sometimes, traditions need to be revisited and revamped.  Maybe it's time to change things up a bit so the holiday season doesn't become the same-old, same-old.  Sometimes finances or time constraints might cause us to have to tweak a tradition here or there. And that's okay, as long as you communicate this to the kids.  The worst is to have them count on something and then feeling let down that it didn't happen.

Case in point:  It was the year my grandparents got divorced.  My mother was around 9 (maybe 10).  In Christmases past, her parents always put up a huge tree, decorated with tons of tinsel and overstocked with hoards of gifts.  The year of the divorce, however, her mother was severely depressed and basically spent her days in bed.  All day. Every day.  Extremely depressing.  However, my mother believed in Christmas miracles.  Then, when an older sister came by and gave them a tree a day or two before Christmas, my mom REALLY knew things would be all right.  Now Santa would HAVE to come, like he always did, and leave sweet-filled stockings and gifts galore, and the Christmas season would feel special just like it was supposed to.  In spite of her own mother shutting the world out from underneath her covers, my mother had high hopes.  But Christmas morning came, and when my mother ran down the stairs, she was struck with the same image she had retired from the previous night.  The tree, still standing in the front room, bearing no gifts, bearing no Christmas miracle.  Bearing only the unfulfilled hope of one little girl.  Running to her mother, she sobbed that Santa had forgotten.  Her mother scolded her for believing in such foolishness.  Imagine the heartache.  Imagine the trauma.  Imagine how different things could have been if my grandmother had pulled my mother aside ahead of time and said, "Christmas is going to be a little different this year..."  And imagine how much better it would have been if my grandmother would have said, "...but in spite of that, we're still going to do the following traditions to make it special..."  Imagine if then they did those traditions, instead of ripping the carpet of Christmas right from under my mother's feet.

Now, I know her mother loved her.  She knew her mother loved her.  But that still didn't make up for the trauma of Christmas, which incidentally led to my mother's decision to teach us from day one that Santa is just "a fictional, fun character, based on a charitable figure from history". My mother never wanted us to experience that sort of let-down.  Who could blame her?  My mother was always realistic with us children about expectations for Christmas each year.  However, unlike her own mother, in spite of my parents' meager income ($:child ratio, 7 children), she and my dad always went above and beyond to make things special for us.  We had stockings, and music, and tons and tons of decor.  We appreciated their efforts, and were ever so grateful for that one special gift under our tiny tree with our name on it. We knew that was something we could always count on! We looked forward to our annual traditions of decorating on December 1st, making our gingerbread houses, jumping on their bed - yelling "Merry Christmas!" to wake them up,  and eating Christmas waffles after all of our gifts were opened.  It was a magical day for us.

I've mentioned some of my traditions over the past years, and some have changed a little here or there.  On Christmas eve the kids get to open a gift of new pj's & socks.  We spend Christmas eve eating finger foods/appetizers and watching all of our favorite Christmas movies.  And we always find time to read the Nativity.  Christmas morning, after everyone is awake, we open our stockings, and then starting with the youngest, open our gifts.  Usually after that, the 3 oldest head to their dad's to spend the rest of the day with him, since his birthday is also on Christmas.  Eric & I will then take the youngest up to his maternal grandfather's house to open more gifts and partake of the scrumptious lunch buffet his wife (step-grandmother) sets out each year.  This year, after that, we will then drive to Brighton's maternal grandmother's house, where we will exchange more gifts and then he will spend the rest of the weekend with her.  I imagine in the next few years to follow, this will become our tradition of how to spend Christmas day.  I think perhaps the hubs & I could even make the evening a dinner & movie date for ourselves (hint, hint)  :)
Other things we do during the holiday season:  Make & decorate either gingerbread houses or gingerbread men (or both).  A family service "project" (sub for Santa, or other).  Write the annual Christmas letter w/ accompanying photo. Decorate the main tree in a new theme or color scheme (my personal tradition).  Attend the church Christmas party.  Attend the church Christmas program.  Attend both sides' family Christmas parties (Millers & Steuarts).  Visit a light display. And listen to lots and lots of Christmas music!

I am grateful for the holiday season, and for the opportunity to reflect on each other and serve one another, for the opportunity to relish in the love and gratitude we have for our family and friends and especially our Savior, Jesus Christ.  True, there have been "dark" times in my life, and I have felt in Christmases past, much like my grandmother, in that I've wanted to stay under the covers until it was all over.  But, I'm grateful I didn't - both for the sake of my children, and the sake of my own soul.  The Christmas spirit can produce miracles and promote healing, but only if we let it. Only if we seek it.

May your holidays be joyful and may you find that one (or two, or many) tradition(s) that fill(s) you with hope, healing, & happiness!


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