When I was younger, Christmas tradition meant writing Santa early, explaining that “we live in Phoenix, but on Christmas DAY day we’ll be in Memphis, so can’t you come early in Phoenix? Then no need to visit in Memphis”. Lying awake in bed all night, the night before whichever Saturday in December we decided was our Christmas, unable to think about anything except how excited I was.
Christmas tradition meant boarding a plane to Memphis and staying with my rickety old aunt whom we all feared. Big spaghetti dinner on real Christmas Eve with rum cake for dessert, then lying awake all night, thinking about how I was “pretty excited”, though nothing could compare with Santa’s first coming. It meant getting dressed in red-and-green plaid frilly dresses on Christmas day, sitting through mass with my family–excluding my absolutely non-religious father–confused as to why this was necessary.
It meant sitting through a painful Christmas lunch at my great aunt’s house, complete with an interior untouched since the 60s, eating pickles off a carved glass platter and putting jelly on my rolls. It meant tediously attempting to entertain myself while the grownups washed dishes by hand after lunch, awaiting the distribution of gifts with bated breath.
It meant then pretending to be OK with sharing the spotlight, reading names off gift tags and delivering the packages across the crowded living room to its recipient, living only for the hope that my slew of packages was not yet exhausted.
It meant living through a Christmas dinner of repeat turkey and stuffing, with additions of macaroni and cheese and ham. Meant sitting with my bottom entirely on the chair, when all I could think about was my new virtual fashion designer Barbie software.
At some point, Christmas tradition morphed into a predictable haul of predetermined gifts selected from a Word doc list I wrote in November. The sleep before Christmas remained trying in anticipation of my new Fender Strat, though surprises were few. We moved to Memphis and stopped writing Santa.
Christmas tradition began to mean calling my boyfriend after midnight mass with my mother, theatrically dressing up for the event and indulging my fascination of the grimness of religion, the heaviness of incense and candles. It meant awkward photos of forced smiles in pajama pants, holding up packages next to my face.
It meant inevitably fighting with the boyfriend, and allowing my attention to be refocused almost entirely on the petty drama. It meant piling in the car under the typically pale grey skies, driving down a depressing highway in a city I never really loved. Or probably ever even liked.
It meant letting the new kids in the family take over the gift distribution, watching from my corner of the living room, resenting the forced togetherness.
Christmas started to begin its celebration alone in my little apartment off at college, stringing white lights along the wall and adorning a small, artificial tree with monochromatic ornaments, purchased in bulk from Hobby Lobby.
It meant torrenting Christmas music and making seasonal cookies, in love with the idea of the holiday, and greatly anticipating my homecoming after exams. It meant idolizing the roaring fire, the ever-pleasant Sunday dinners leading up to the primary holiday, the decorated sugar cookies I was sure characterized “home”.
It meant another abundant, yet anticipated Christmas day haul, complete with handheld vacuums, wall art, and other practical presents that forced me to start jokes with “You know you’re a grownup when…”
It meant packing my car to the brim, a game of Tetris with coffeemaker boxes and a bulk stash of macaroni cheese. It meant feeling guilty about leaving home to go back to school, but only until I was on the road. Then it meant feeling independent, free.
Now it means O and I, plus our puppy, our little family of three, balancing our two other families of parents and in-laws. It means skipping the Christmas Eve dinner for the first time in my life to spend the time with O’s family, watching his niece and nephew rip apart the wrapping paper on the gifts I attempted to pick, still not knowing them too well. Hiding a feeling of giddiness when the kids exclaim anything over my pick, or when his sister seems to approve.
It means being the new girl, still trying to convince his family to like and trust me. It means spending plenty of time with my family, but trying to gracefully bow out of their long-standing traditions to establish our own.
It means helping my mother pick out an unbelievable number of gifts for her future son-in-law, and hearing she and O talking quietly on the phone about who gets to buy what on my Pinterest Christmas list.
It means starting a new tradition by ourselves, planning a Christmas Eve feast of everything we like for O and me–escargots à la bourguignonne, seared filet mignon stuffed with homemade boursin, steamed artichokes with aioli, truffle macaroni and cheese, and crêpes à la crème de marron au rhum flambé for dessert. It means trading the feast for a hibachi dinner out, too tired to cook.
It means exchanging gifts on Christmas Eve and watching a Christmas movie before hopping in bed in time to get to my parents’ house in time to make breakfast. It means busily working in the kitchen, stuffing and trussing turkeys and attempting to keep everyone else’s stress level as low as possible.
If every Christmas were different, I’m not sure what I would do. All year I look forward to repeating these actions, though they evolve over time til they’re nearly unrecognizable. Yet, each new iteration is comforting.
What are your Christmas traditions? Have you ever started a new tradition just because?
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