The older I get the more important family traditions have become as a part of my life. I find it fascinating to hear traditions of others and reflect on how my family rituals have come to be what they are. No time of the year has more traditional activities than during the holidays so I thought that we could take a trip together to examine my personal traditions and unique family customs.
Of course, as a kid, Christmas was a BIG deal. We were very lucky to essentially have 3 Christmas celebrations every year; the first at home, then Grandma and Grandpa Griff’s house and finishing the day at the farm with Grandma and Grandpa Frost. For us kids it was awesome but I am sure it was a marathon for my parents. Growing up here at the nursery, work wasn’t just a part of our holiday… it was THE BIGGEST component of our lives. Everything revolved around work and everyone was exceptionally busy right up until Christmas, so having such a busy day on Christmas after all the extra-long work days leading to the holiday had to be exhausting. We always cut a tree (usually a Blue Spruce) from the forest of evergreen trees in our back yard. These trees planted by Carlton Lowe in the early 1950’s were quite large, so my Mom would pick the top of a tree she particularly liked and Dad would cut it down and bring it in. Let me tell you… we had some seriously ugly Christmas trees! Well, they were ugly until Mom decorated them. With beads and baubles, many home-made ornaments, strands and stringers (and tinsel of course) the tree always ended up beautiful. Santa left a note explaining how he really didn’t need a chimney to get in the house and thanking us for the cookies and carrots (for Rudolf). We always got practical things in our stockings; combs, toothpaste, some candy.
After opening Santa gifts we had breakfast and then went next door to Grandma Griff’s house. Grandma had one of those rotating aluminum trees with big lights that bubbled. We always got bikes from Grandma… Grandpa got me a pool table. Grandma made a mean pork roast and we would eat a giant lunch with all the fixings. I loved Grandma’s Jello salad with fruit cocktail in it.
With no time to waste, we sped along to the farm where all our cousins would be waiting. Santa would make an appearance at Grandma Frost’s house with gifts for all. One year he gave my sister and me plastic wigs… they were different colors. If there was snow we would bundle up and ride our sleds on the hill in the pasture. If there wasn’t any snow we played on the bales of hay in the barn. We all got called into the house for dinner; my uncle would say the blessing. That house smelled so good. Of course we sat at the kids table… I never made it to the adult table at the farmhouse. We drove home late looking for Christmas lights… we were so content… so happy and safe.
So on another Christmas day a very special girl opens a special box that holds a Santa. In his basket is another smaller box with a ring and a proposal… another family of traditions was begun.
Christmas magic returned to our home first with Darby then Maddi and with them the opportunity to shape our own family traditions. Santa brought lit and decorated Christmas trees into the girls’ bedroom that provided quite a surprise when they awoke (at 5:30am). The kids prepared a wish list of gifts that they would give to Santa at Tower City and, magically, that very list would be at the hearth on Christmas morning along with a note from Santa himself. As years passed there were tests to determine the authenticity of Santa. Last minute requests for Santa to provide pictures of his reindeer magically appeared along with pictures of Mom and Dad fast asleep. Stockings always had practical items; brushes, toothpaste and some candy. Candy cigarettes proved Santa was real… ‘Mom and Dad would never give those to us!’ We would host the entire family on Christmas day and eat way too much. I was the only one who wanted Jello but my Mom made it for me anyway. By the time all the cousins left it would be late and we would all go to bed… so content… so happy and safe.
Once we moved to our new house with tall ceilings we began the tradition of a giant Christmas tree. The lesson that first year was that you DON’T drink any wine until after you’ve decorated the top of an 18’ tree… ladders and wine just don’t mix! Boxes and boxes of ornaments were taken out of storage and the kids watched us decorate the tree… we’d beg for their help but they seemed to see this as work and not much fun.
We continue to host Christmas and now look forward to having the kids come home from college for the holidays. On the first Christmas they were both gone to school we were warned “Don’t you dare set up the tree until we get home!” So now, all of a sudden, they wanted to participate in the decorating of the tree! But it isn’t just the tree but the entire house that they now decorate. That 1st Santa that brought an engagement ring 28 years ago is joined by a virtual Santacon-like collection with a new Santa joining the cast every year. The Santas preside over a variety of holiday décor including antique sleds, silver bells, garlands and ornaments… hundreds and hundreds of ornaments! On Christmas morning the kids’ stockings will have practical items; brushes, toothpaste and some candy. There aren’t nearly as many presents under the tree but Santa still leaves a note and is thankful for the cookies. We will host the entire family all day long and by the time all the cousins leave… well, you know the rest.
Soon my girls will have their own families and begin to build their own family traditions. I would guess that they will adopt some new traditions and may choose to maintain some of the customs they grew up with. I look forward to seeing what happens next.
My greatest hope, and the greatest hope that any parent could have, is that when they settle in at the end of the day that they go to bed… so content… so happy and safe.
Don’t let your family traditions fade in the rush of this busy holiday season. As I look back, there was so much of who I am today wrapped up in what could have easily been seen as an unnecessary burden of the past. So I will wrap that toothpaste again for the stockings, risk life and limb decorating that giant tree and ask my Mom to make me Jello again… it’s what we do… it’s who I am.
Now go outside and have fun in the dirt!