Christmas Traditions – Or Not
- Wednesday, December 08, 2004
This is it – the year the traditions change. It’s been creeping up on us for some time, and this year, it’s official.
Christmas in the Smith household is an elaborate affair. My mom buys far, far too many gifts. We sleep late, have a huge breakfast, and stretch out the opening of the gifts (my dad plays referee – one gift for one person at a time, so everyone knows what everyone else is opening) until nearly time for dinner.
It’s not so much about the gifts (although we love them!) as it is about spending time together, talking about what interests us, and loving each other. My brother-in-law, Jon, will get very cool music. My brother Patrick, the entrepreneur, will get books about marketing, or design, or the science of invention. Irita, my brother’s fiancee, got a book of Billy Collins poetry one year and we read some of the poems out loud. (I chose to read “To My Patron” in honor of my parents – I was trying to talk them into funding my writing lifestyle, the way the Medicis did for Michelangelo and his art. I didn’t realize that in the poem the patron is killed in the end. It was a classic Christmas moment.)
When my niece Grace was two, she got all kinds of gifts – sidewalk chalk, bubbles, bathtub paints – which were meant to be used a little later, a concept she didn’t understand. She felt these gifts were all meant to be used right now, a reminder to us of how two-year-olds think. So we found ourselves outside in the snow blowing bubbles on Christmas day. And somehow Grace got soaked, and didn’t have a change of clothes, and it didn’t really matter in the end.
These traditions have survived in spite of family changes. My brother and Irita have spent Christmas in New Mexico with her family. My sister’s family started with baby Grace (whose first Christmas found her the object of not one, not two, but fully four rolls of film) and eighteen months later the twins were born – feisty, determined, adorable Alison and Eleanor. We’ve celebrated some years on Christmas Eve, and some on Christmas Day, and some both. Last year we celebrated in a new house, because my parents unexpectedly sold the house we grew up in and downsized. But the traditions have always held.
This year, Pat and Irita will be in New Mexico for Christmas. So we’ll celebrate early with them. I will be with my parents on Christmas morning in their townhouse. We’ll still have a huge breakfast, and we’ll still open gifts. It’s just that it will be – well, quiet. Very quiet.
Late in the afternoon, we’ll head to my sister’s house for Christmas dinner. We’re discovering that it’s easier for us to go to their house than for them to pack up three children under the age of four, along with the special blankets, pillows, and Dora the Explorer backpacks they cannot live without. So this year we will go to the noise instead of the noise coming to us.
This seems like a very small change, one I feel petty for noticing. But with this change, it feels as though the center of gravity in our family has shifted slightly, and I am no longer in the middle.
Being single, holidays can be difficult because they likely are not what we expected them to be. You are not mother, but aunt. Not husband or wife, but brother-in-law, sister, daughter. And others are perhaps defining the holiday for you because their needs are greater than your own.
I have to admit to a fleeting wish that I had somewhere else to go this Christmas. A fiance and his family in San Diego or Vermont would be most welcome. And since I don’t have that, perhaps I could go to London or Bath and tell my family I’ll catch them next year. My friend Beverly and I briefly discussed going to Paris – she found a great deal on tickets, with a hotel for only $40 a night – but we both agreed that we can’t afford it, deal or not, and in truth, I’m far too tired. The year has been too busy.
So this Christmas, I’ll be playing a role I’ve come to cherish. I will be reading to my nieces and discussing with them the intricacies of Strawberry Shortcake. I will try to contain a small bit of the chaos (if chaos is ever allowed, it ought to be on Christmas). If I’m lucky, I will be tucking in a tiny person with her favorite blanket who certainly will need a hug before she goes to sleep.
And I will be very glad that we are all together, traditions or not.
Lori Smith lives in northern Virginia where she frequents a local ballet studio, hikes in the Shenandoahs, and throws the occasional pity party. Find more of her writing and preview "The Single Truth" at www.thesingletruth.org.
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