What is it about the holiday season that has us so deeply entrenched in tradition?
Is it the reminder of the eager anticipation we felt on Christmas morning, waking up to see what Santa brought? Is it the feast for the senses throughout the month of December? Is it the reminder of a simpler, gentler time?
Or is the totality of the experience, combining the recreation of old familiar traditions with the new experiences that get woven in as the fabric of our lives changes?
Here are ten such traditions that have formed an important part of the holidays for me over the years:
I recently blogged about how shopping in December is so much fun, I now shop in November. But in all seriousness, I do have very fond memories of being a store clerk in my high school and university years and how much I enjoyed helping last minute shoppers find the perfect holiday gifts. In those last days leading up to the big day, there was magic and electricity in the air that made time fly, helping customer after customer ring through with their purchases and hurry out the door to their family, friends and festivities. I enjoyed that role of a sort of Christmas Elf so much, things may come full circle as something I might reconsider in my retirement years.
9. Christmas cards
Ever since I was a child, I enjoyed sending and receiving Christmas cards through the mail. As I got older I realized that it was impossible to see everyone over the holidays unless I had my own magic sleigh, 8 reindeer and unlimited time. Sending cards is that opportunity to tell someone that I am thinking of them, even if we don’t see each other that often, as well as the chance to convey my best wishes for the new year. True enough, electronic cards, email and texts can still convey the message so much more efficiently, but I still like the ritual of the mailbox and the “Aww!” moment of opening a card, reading a nice greeting and the joy of the ongoing connection with the sender. Plus, when I find a perfect card that captures an inside joke, makes someone laugh, or strikes the right chord in one way or another, it can be a beautiful thing.
Is there anything that helps to stir up the memories of Christmas past than the sweet smell of baking favourite holiday treats? In the weeks leading up to Christmas, I do find myself puttering in the kitchen more than usual, reviving old favourites to bring to potlucks, parties or to give as gifts. When that sweet smell gently fills the house, it really does whisper “Christmas is coming”. Date squares, pecan squares, butter cookies and rum balls, are just some of the traditional indulgences that I revive annually.
It is also a chance to experiment, making gluten-free versions. This year I found success in making my own gluten-free fruitcake and was so thrilled at the result with this recipe:
Thank you Canadian Living magazine!
I recently rediscovered the joy of holiday decorating in seeing my cat’s eyes light up at the sight of this enormous cat tree in the corner of the living room. (…That’s what she thinks!) With a curious cat in the house, it became a creative challenge to still maintain the tree-trimming tradition without creating a hazard.
After anchoring it with 30 and 35 pound dumbbells, buying a bucket of extremely affordable unbreakable ornaments at WalMart, and chopping garland into smaller pieces (to avoid her being able to bring the whole tree down with one pull) the tradition lives on!
I will admit as well that I think animated decorations can be a lot of fun too, perhaps to the point of diminishing returns. You’ll never know the discipline it takes to NOT to let the mischievous 8 year old boy inside of me run through the office halls and activate each animated ornament along the way.
6. Holiday Specials on TV
With most shows having aired their “fall finales”, this seems to be a great time to catch up on the shows I missed and clear off the shows on my PVR. But competing for my attention is the cornucopia of holiday specials.
Given how many such variety specials fill the airwaves, I take that as a sign that I am not alone, sipping egg nog while watching variety specials or Frosty, Rudolph or Charlie Brown. The excitement of holiday specials even extends to game shows when their sets are brightly decorated in holiday style, and their prizes include holiday themed merchandise. To me, it never gets old.
5. Holiday Treats
What is it about those seasonal treats like peppermint hot chocolate, peppermint brownies, candy cane ice cream and egg nog that keep us coming back for more? Is it the fact that they are available only once per year and that perceived scarcity makes them that much more attractive? Or is it just that they taste so darn good?
If we wanted to make them, I am sure we could, even in the middle of July, but would it be the same? I don’t think so either. It just seems that they have that unique appeal at that time of year.
4. Planning the New Year’s Resolutions
Along with the fruit cake, rum balls, egg nog and candy cane ice cream comes the traditional promise to spend January working off any extra pounds picked up through the indulgences of the season.
3. Christmas Music
Whether you love it or hate it, holiday tunes are the soundtrack of the season, whether on the radio, on television, in the stores, on the phone while on hold, or in elevators. What I enjoy most is when new artists take an old classic and give it a contemporary make over, just to give a little variety to the play lists. I also applaud their efforts when composing great new tunes that turn out to be enjoyable holiday gems, never really knowing what might become a new traditional holiday tune for future generations.
This is a tradition I really miss. When I was very young, “réveillon” usually consisted of a nap after dinner on Christmas Eve, dressing up in my 3-piece suit, heading to my Grandparents’ house around 9:00, attending Christmas mass at 10:00 and then head back to the Grandparent’s house to stay up most of the night, eating, chatting, opening presents and singing Christmas songs. Then we’d head home to bed around 2:00 or 3:00 a.m., only to head back to their house in the afternoon to do it all over again. How my Grandmother prepared 2 big meals back-to-back like that, I will never know. That’s what made her superhuman in my eyes!
Over the years, the réveillon transitioned into a daytime version, and we were all OK with that, but the snapshots in my mind from that time, of a little guy in a three piece suit, allowed to stay up waaaaayyy past his bedtime, mixing and mingling with the adults, form an experience I will never forget.
1. Being together with family, friends and colleagues
There have been years that I have looked at my social calendar and wondered how I was going to make it through the season. My wonder then turned to immense gratitude in counting my blessings for the people who were so kind in inviting me to be part of their celebrations.
While the holidays may seem a little heavy on the commercialism, let’s face it, even if we did away with the shopping, the gifts, the feast, the music, none of it would matter if we did not have someone to share it with. For that I am most lucky and most grateful.
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Have a great day,