‘Tis the season for tradition — eggnog, candy canes, a wreath on the front door, a Christmas tree in the living room — these are touchstones of the season, common constants that help subconsciously prepare us for other, sometimes absurd, customs that are revived every year at this time. In the meals we eat, the decorations we hang, and the clothes we wear, tradition rears its sometimes silly head and makes us do things that are somehow embarrassing and heart-warming at the same time.
I’ve heard of many, shall we say unusual, traditions that rival those in our family: pantyhose stockings hanging on the mantle, deer jerky left for Santa instead of cookies and milk, the Christmas steak and shrimp dinner, immediately putting on any gift that is wearable, watching Die Hard on Christmas Eve; I’m sure your family has at least one odd custom of its own. The comical variations of the “Santa Hat” alone are too numerous to mention. (For those unenlightened masses, a Santa Hat is what the person handing out the gifts must wear. This is often passed from one person to another throughout the process of digging the Christmas tree out from under a mountain of brightly wrapped gifts.)
I’m not exactly sure how all of our own family’s traditions came about, but there are several that I find downright comical.
The first has to do with Christmas stockings. (This came from my wife’s side of the family.) For us, Christmas stockings are used for replenishing all the personal hygiene items that we may have used up during the year. The stockings may be hung from the chimney with care, but we pack those red felt suckers chock-a-block full of toothbrushes, toothpaste, lip balm, tissue packets, soap, foot powder, deodorant, skin lotion, combs, and other assorted items that you usually pick up at the pharmacy when you’re getting low on them during the year. Instead, we use Christmas to stock up on all that stuff. Thrilling isn’t it?
Of course, one of the neat things about this tradition is the rare occasion when some incredibly special gift is slipped in among the dross. Imagine you’ve opened everything under the tree and been secretly disappointed that your husband hadn’t delivered anything memorable. You go through your stocking gifts opening up all the standard stuff that you could have bought in fifteen minutes at CVS. Suddenly, Christmas is saved! (Along with the aforesaid husband.) When you get to the bottom, you find a ruby and diamond ring wrapped in a piece of tissue paper.
Our second silly tradition is of my own devious creation. Almost every year since we were married in 1976, I am usually involved in some home improvement project or another. That project was usually started long before Christmas and had been dragging on… and on… and on. In those years, I usually will work ridiculous hours trying to finish up some dramatic portion of the project in the wee hours of Christmas morning. Then my wife would wake up and be surprised that the kitchen cabinets finally had doors, or a new light fixture had been installed. This allowed me to get Christmas gift credit for something that I was obligated to do at some point anyway. Believe it or not, the same woman has remained married to me for almost 36 years despite such nonsense.
I get to our family’s final silly tradition with a mild sense of melancholy. Many years ago, when he was in his mid-teens, my eldest son gave my wife a piece paper that listed nine great golf gifts. That’s it, that was the gift. My wife has never played golf, except the miniature kind; neither has my son. It was just a silly joke on his part. The next year, my wife gave it back to him, packaged in a way that made him thing he was getting something special. He gave it back to her the year after, and a tradition was born. That little piece of paper went back and forth for years. One year, my wife stole it back from my son and gave it to him two years in a row. Another Christmas it went missing, only to turn up the next, providing an even bigger surprise for the recipient. For myself and my other children, this annual battle of the nine golf gifts provided an amusing undertone to the annual opening of Christmas gifts. But in recent years we’ve been disappointed, for this tradition has died.
It didn’t expire from any neglect or a lack of desire to continue said tradition. With all the changes and moving that has gone on in all our lives over the past several years, the list of nine great golf gifts has gone missing, apparently for good. We all mourn the loss of that silly piece of paper. It had become, like all good traditions, a bridge to the past, to times that we felt connected to more closely as a result of observing a seemingly ridiculous little custom.
So I want you to celebrate, and revel in, your silly family traditions. No matter what they are, you’ll miss them if they ever go away.