There are two kinds of people: those who adore the time-tested holiday traditions, the shopping, the wrapping, the cooking, the expectations… and those who, for whatever reason, don’t.
Of those who don’t, there are the ones who carry on anyway, and there are the ones who realize it’s okay not to conform, that they can make other choices. So, they do.
In the Sixty and Me community I’m sure there’s a strong showing on both sides. We’re the Boomers, after all, and we’ve blazed the trail through a half-century of change. We’ve been feminists, conscientious objectors, protestors, rebels with or without a cause, and we have, indeed, come a long way baby.
On the other hand, many of us had parents who were steeped in tradition and were determined to pass it down to the next generation – us.
But a rare few, as soon as their mind was their own to make up, decided to avoid the issue. They took a vacation over Christmas break, somewhere far away from expectation. I envied those kids who came back to school telling about French-speaking Canadians, or a trip to the beach in Mexico. A few even went to Europe.
Many of us picked up the baton and continued the rituals even though something in the back of our hearts asked, Why? Or we embraced all of it, determined to pass them down to our own children because, That’s the way our family’s always done it.
Last night, a Millennial, who happens to be a delightful, thoughtful, unmarried woman from the U.S., joined our group of mature singles for Christmas dinner. As the evening progressed she posed a question: If you had it to do over, would you bring up your children with Santa Claus and gifts, or would you do it differently?
I thought back to my childhood winter holidays. There was the annual lefse bake at Aunt Joyce and Uncle John’s. There were weeks of baking, decorating, and freezing Christmas cookies for giving to family friends.
There was the trip to the farm to cut the tree. My little brother and sister and I traipsed after Dad who carried the axe and pulled the toboggan, the vehicle used to transport our prize back to the car. With snow up to our thighs and cold leaching through our boots until we couldn’t feel our toes, it was high adventure. Nothing came between us kids and the annual hunt for the perfect evergreen.
We loved and hated the Christmas Eve program in front of the fireplace. Each of us was charged with the responsibility of preparing something to share. Sometimes I played a carol on my flute. Sometimes I wrote a song and accompanied myself on the guitar. Once I roped my brother and sister into performing a skit.
Dad always read the Christmas story and mom had an inspirational poem from the December issue of the Ideals magazine. Then we dressed up, bundled up, and went to the candlelight service at the Lutheran church which ended at midnight. I never once made it all the way through without falling asleep.
Although we were up late the night before, excitement ran high and we awoke long before the sun rose on a northern Minnesota Christmas morning. We were allowed to get our stockings and ravage them, a freedom allowed by parents who wanted to steal a few more minutes of sleep.
When it was impossible to contain our enthusiasm another minute, we burst into their bedroom and pestered them until they donned their robes and let us pull them toward the treasures under the tree. The pile of gifts that Santa left always seemed enormous.
The week between Christmas and the New Year’s Eve sliding party at Aunt Alice and Uncle Ole’s, was spent visiting cousins, building snowmen, skating, tobogganing, and making the most of the festive holidays. If it sounds idyllic, it was.
Then I grew up and did my best to recreate that magical time in the dead of winter for my children.
We moved to Texas. I bought a lefse griddle and taught our Texan friends how to roll perfect, see-through lefse rounds. They loved it and our own traditions were born.
But now I’m a handful of days away from 67 years old and I have to say I’m over it; over the expectations, over the commercialism, over the need to conform.
I love Bali for giving me a different way to experience the holidays. My Balinese friends are either Hindu or Muslim. They don’t celebrate Christmas so I’m afforded the opportunity to surprise them with little gifts. Sometimes they treat me with a home-made sweet, or flowers. But it’s unexpected. That’s when you know it’s a heart-gift, not the obligatory chore.
I can choose to be alone and just be quiet with myself. Or I can join friends, like I did last night, and sit in a beautiful hotel on a windy beach sipping a cocktail at sunset. I Skype with my daughters who are involved with their extended families and friends, and watch them doing some of those same things we did when they were growing up. But I have to be honest, I love this freedom.
So back to the question that got me started: If I had it to do it over would I do things differently? Some parts of my life, yes! In a heartbeat! But the holidays?
In spite of the stress, the responsibility, never having enough time, wrapping gifts until 2 am on Christmas Eve, all other things being equal, I think not.
What about you? Did you have traditions growing up that your children continue today? Would you do it differently if you had another go? Now that this year’s celebrations are past, are you considering changes to plans for the new year? Please share in the comments.