Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Family Christmas Traditions

I realized a few weeks ago that we no longer have any little kids. We still have nearly a full brood at home and we can still look forward to years of homework combat. But the kids are growing up. How do I know this? Other than the usual observations of children growing to adult size, I was surprised at this year's vote on Christmas decorating.

Our family policy has been to decorate not a moment earlier than the first weekend in December and then to put the decorations away sometime before New Years Eve. I quite enjoy the Christmas season, but its rarity is among the features that render it so endearing. While some people start decorating in October, for me that kind of thing increases the season's commonality, thereby, decreasing its specialness.

A few weeks ago, noting that December first this year fell on the Sunday of a long holiday weekend, I offered the family the opportunity of putting up Christmas decorations that weekend. It wasn't that I was eager to decorate. It's just that my practical side considered the available time. The kids flatly turned me down. They didn't care to decorate even one day early.

As it turned out, the kids didn't really care to decorate much at all. The younger two joined my wife and me part of the time, but they mostly preferred to watch a video. The older kids didn't bother to ascend from their basement habitations during the decorating festivities. Our children all seem to enjoy the Christmas decor, but this year they reminded me of the Little Red Hen's associates when it came to doing the work involved—a far cry from the days when seven bodies (many of them energetic young children) all tried to haphazardly jam ornaments on the tree simultaneously.

We put up two Christmas trees each year. Our living room ceiling is more than 12 feet tall. So we have a gorgeous 12-foot-tall tree in there. But the room is too small to host gift opening for our entire family. So we set up a second much smaller Christmas tree in the family room. We recently obtained a wall tree, which is only one half of a regular artificial tree so that it stands flat against a wall. Some of the children gnashed their teeth about that, but it takes up far less room so that we don't have to move furniture around.

Our decorating is limited to the two trees, a porcelain Nativity set, a few doorknob hangers, and a couple other odds and ends. I have never been one to put up outdoor lights. I tell the kids that they are welcome to enjoy the lights our neighbors graciously put up.

Our kids are somewhat flexible about some Christmas traditions, but they are very inflexible about others. In a post last year I described our tradition of giving each child a box of their favorite breakfast cereal on Christmas morning; a tradition we concocted long ago to make sure that family members ate breakfast before opening gifts. I recently asked the kids if they wanted their usual private cereal or if they would prefer that I make them a hot breakfast this year. I was shouted down for heresy. We will be doing cereal, as usual.

Another cherished tradition that will continue is our Christmas Eve dinner on the floor. Years ago we thought we'd try holding a dinner that would have been reminiscent of Passover dinners in the Jewish culture of Jesus' day. We're not Jewish so we didn't try to serve a kosher meal. But we got pita bread to imitate the unleavened bread, served dried fruits and nuts, and found a variety of other interesting fare. The main thing that intrigued the children was that we ate on the floor by candlelight.

Over the years our Christmas Eve dinners have turned to much more American fare that lacks any reasonable semblance of foods served in Palestine 2,000 years ago. But we still continue to hold dinner on the floor by candlelight. A lot of it is electric candlelight these days, simply for convenience and safety.

Not that this tradition is without challenges. We set up seats and TV trays for our aging widowed mothers whose joints find floor seating decreasingly tolerable. And since getting a dog two years ago we have had to figure out how to keep him away from the meal. We usually give him a nice meaty bone, which keeps him busy long enough for us to serve, dine, and clean up.

Another tradition that will stay for awhile longer was carried over from my childhood. Each Christmas we would draw a sibling's name for a gift exchange. Sibling gifts were presented and opened after dinner on Christmas Eve so that we had something to occupy us while we eagerly awaited Christmas morning.

This tradition evolved to family gift exchanges as my brothers and I began forming our own families. We eventually called it quits after a family discussion on the matter because we were all going home from the family gathering with more junk than we needed. I am probably still in hot water for making an insensitive comment about the proliferation of Christmas craft items generated by some of my craft-y and artistic sisters-in-law.

I'm not sure how much our kids care about our family's first Christmas tradition. The Christmas we were engaged my wife and I bought a heart shaped ornament. Every Christmas since then we have found some kind of unique ornament that features a heart. Each of these ornaments is labeled with the year. Perhaps this tradition will become more meaningful to our children in the future.

Our family Christmas traditions will evolve as our family dynamics change. Eventually our children will develop their own Christmas traditions as they form their own families. Maybe some of these traditions will stem from those they enjoyed while growing up.

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