If you ask my kids what today is, they will probably tell you it is New Year’s Day. They might also be just as likely to answer that it is the eighth day of Christmas, or even four nights before our much-anticipated Twelfth Night celebration. Of course, they know it’s already been several weeks since we observed Krampus Night, when we prepared, with some trepidation, the peanut butter marshmallow toast offering for the mysterious creature from Alpine folklore. (My husband reported later that evening that it was actually quite delicious.) Suffice it to say, we have some pretty interesting traditions in our house. Many of these can be attributed to Russell. For someone who calls himself the ultimate curmudgeon, he is often the most sentimental of us all.
Ever since I left the nest of my youth, I have endeavored to keep the traditions of my childhood holidays alive and well. For years after college, I continued to return home to spend the night in my own bed on Christmas Eve just so I could wake up early, quietly wait on the landing, and wait for my parents to verify Santa had come before being allowed to peek around the corner. After I married, we continued the pilgrimage because waking up anywhere else on Christmas morning seemed akin to treason to me. There must be grapefruit, lovingly sprinkled with sugar by my mother, served on Spode Christmas china for breakfast. There must also be a roaring fire lit by my father late in the evening where I would fall fast asleep in front of its warmth until being summoned to bed. The year the twins were born, I spent energy I didn’t even have packing up presents as well as two sets of, well, everything for this journey south. If memory serves, it was actually pouring down rain as I finally loaded our beloved greyhound into the van (because we had to take two cars in order to haul everything to and fro). It was tradition, after all. And it was totally worth it to wait on the landing with my new family. To wait to for my dad to stall, “I just have to take a shower and shave, and then I’ll check to see if Santa came.” (Daaaaad!) When I look at the picture of the four of us waiting on the landing that year, I remember the day was very special to me. I also remember how tired I was. That was the moment I realized that the old traditions might have to wiggle over just a little bit to make room for a few new ones.
I struggled for several years to figure out what those new traditions would be. How can you just decide one day to start new traditions? What in the world would they be? I worried that whatever I planned would not be special enough, not worthy of being considered a tradition. I wanted my children to remember the holidays with as much nostalgia and sentimentality as I did. The first couple of years, I remember feeling as though I flailed about, trying way too hard. Would we or wouldn’t we attend a Christmas Eve church service? Would we or wouldn’t we have friends over on Christmas Eve? Would we or wouldn’t we wait in line at the mall to sit on Santa’s lap, no matter who was crying? When our third child arrived, I was forced to give myself a little grace. I simply could not worry about details beyond making sure everyone was fed (usually), bathed (occasionally), and clothed (mostly). Once I loosened the reins on the runaway sleigh, I found that I actually had one of the most enjoyable holidays since I became the mommy. I felt like a tourist who remembered to enjoy the view in real time instead of worrying about Instagram filters for my virtual scrapbook. I realized that our traditions were quietly and joyfully being made in the wrinkles of time. When we repeatedly read the rather unusual stories from the Tall Book of Christmas by the fire. When we attended a neighborhood Christmas Eve party for the third year in a row. When my children requested cinnamon rolls for Christmas morning “like you usually make, Mommy.” Ah, what sweet little traditions they are becoming. Add to the mix a husband who is obsessed with interested in European history, lesser-known fairy tales, and etymology and I got some traditions I never saw coming! One of my favorite memories from this year was made during our morning walk to school. Poppy was asking Charlie if he was ready for Krampus night when a neighbor overheard us talking of our evening preparations. She was perplexed by this odd observance and asked, “What in the world is Krampus night?!” Charlie and Poppy just stared, blinked, and replied, “Doesn’t everyone know about Krampus?” Ah, we may be the only family on the block who prepares peanut butter marshmallow toast on December 5, but it is our tradition.
This year may have been my favorite Christmas yet. As I shared with my father earlier this week, I felt there was balance this holiday that had escaped me in recent years past. Balance between giving and receiving, between travelling and staying put, between being festive and being still, and between celebrating old traditions while embracing the new.