“What’s your favorite Christmas tradition?”
Someone asked me that question this week, and it stopped me cold. I didn’t know what to say. In spite of thriving on routine—the phrase “rut person” may even come to mind—I don’t fill my life with a lot of rituals, holiday or otherwise. Besides, there has been a lot of upheaval over the years, and holiday traditions have shifted and evolved along with everything else.
Still, one thing has remained constant enough to be labeled “tradition.” That one thing is family. Get-togethers haven’t always been on the same date. They haven’t even always been with the same people. But no matter which members of which part of the clan get together, Christmas has always been about family.
Sometimes it’s been fun. Taking the kids to cut Christmas trees in the Black Hills National Forest. Watching little ones open gifts, then take great delight in playing with the boxes. Creating surprises that worked just the way they were supposed to.
Sometimes it’s been funny. One long-ago Christmas, a dozen or so of us were gathered at my aunt and uncle’s house on Christmas Eve. After we had eaten dinner, done dishes, and opened gifts, my aunt suddenly started to laugh. “Look at the tree!” she said.
There it sat, among the crumpled gift wrap and torn-open boxes, as bare as the Emperor without his clothes. In the midst of a busy day, she had forgotten to decorate it. And nobody noticed. (Or at least, anybody who did was too polite to say anything.)
Sometimes it’s been inadvertently adventurous. The year that my son and daughter were seven and one, we were traveling to my parents’ house on a bitterly cold December 23. The wind came up, and the beautiful snow covering the ground turned into a dangerous blizzard. We were smart enough to stop at a small town before the drifts got too deep, and we were lucky enough to get the last available motel room.
The next morning, over breakfast at the town’s single cafe, we met a man who invited us to spend the day at his house until the roads were cleared. He and his wife made us welcome, fed us lunch, and then left us in their house while they went off to their family’s Christmas Eve gathering. I remember sitting in their peaceful living room, rocking my daughter to sleep, feeling deeply blessed by the kindness and trust of these people whose Christmas spirit reached out to take in stranded strangers. In all the years since, I’ve never driven past that small town without thinking of them. And yes, the wind went down, the snowplows went by, and we did get home for Christmas.
Over the years, the dates and locations and faces have changed. We’ve had people in the hospital, people break bones at the family celebration (duct tape in the hands of a good veterinarian makes a good emergency splint), people too pregnant to travel, people too far away to travel, and of course the new arrivals that keep the family growing.
But the one constant has been family. As it will be this year. We have four different celebrations planned, with four different and sometimes overlapping parts of the family. So far, no adventures appear imminent. But then, if we knew about them in advance, they wouldn’t exactly be adventures, would they?
Things I never knew before: The story about Kathleen and her children getting caught in a blizzard and befriended by wonderful people. Unforgettable.