Around the holidays I like asking people what kind of traditions they honor when they celebrate Christmas or other holidays. There are so many different cultures coming together in California and an infinite variety of celebrations. Our family continues to evolve our "traditions" with ideas from my family and travels. First, we celebrate on Christmas Eve, something my Norwegian grandfather started. Given the choice of opening gifts on Christmas Eve or Christmas day, earlier is better. We have scaled back the dinner though to barbeque tri-tip or something easy. Of course there is apple pie.
Warning! If you believe in Santa Claus, stop reading here.
When I was little my Grandfather played Santa Claus at the department store in Santa Rosa, so I never believed in Santa. We still put out our stockings but we knew that Mom was filling them with stocking stuffers. We celebrated Jesus' birthday by attending Christmas Eve services.
After the divorce I had to share the kids, so Tevis, Sarah and I put more emphasis on Christmas Eve. About the same time I shifted church affiliation to Sacramento Friends and the meeting does not offer Christmas Eve services. This makes the evening schedule more relaxed. We have added Jesus' birthday cake (and after some protests, added the pie back). We also enjoy the English tradition of Christmas crackers or poppers. You pull the cracker and it pops and out spills a paper crown, a toy and a joke.
Sarah and Marcos hosted this Christmas Eve and I brought the apple pie and the Christmas crackers. The crackers were the last ones available at William Glen Christmas store, and they were a little fancier than usual. The crowns were gold foil instead of colored tissue paper; the prizes were actually usable (usually more like Cracker Jack's prizes); and the jokes were better, though still corny.
Best joke of 2013: Q: What do you call a boomerang that doesn't return? (A: A stick.)
Most sophisticated joke of 2013: Q: How does Good King Wenceslas like his pizza? (A: Deep, and crisp and even.)
Most misunderstood joke of 2013: Q: What do you call a penguin in the desert? (A: Lost.) Tevis still doesn't get how this is funny.
Christmas Day shifted for me once Tevis and Sarah started spending it with their Dad. I spent many a happy day with my friend Cameon and her family. I have also gone to the movies with the kids after their Dad moved to Washington state. Two years ago I flew home from New Zealand, living Christmas day twice. This year I drove to my rental home in Trinidad, CA for a writing retreat. I get to spend lots of quality time with Harriet and her family. I brought Radar and he's enjoying 5 minute walks to the beach and playing with Hetta's dog Ted. I am searching for a balance between reading, writing and watching Home and Garden TV (this is why I do not have a television at home).
I read recently that Christmas as we know it in the U.S. is a relatively recent development; for many, many centuries Christians did not make a big deal out of Christmas. We are a long way from getting excited over an orange in our stocking: the over the top theatrical productions at mega-churches; the crazy spending on food, gifts, decorations; the house light decorations or multiple Christmas trees. One Christmas when the kids were very small I remember getting completely stressed out and making the decision to stop the madness. I made a list of all the stuff I was doing--from sending Christmas cards, to making cookies for all of the neighbors, and so on. And I chose what I was going to do and not do. I have been tweaking the plan ever since. It is great to be in choice. If throwing yourself into the Christmas holiday and reveling in it all, good on you. Maybe because Christmas has a lot of emotional baggage as well as good memories, I have scaled back my expectations and enjoy it more.
This year was the first year with one of the children married and sharing our traditions and starting new ones. Marcos' parents Neila and Leon joined us for Christmas Eve dinner (brother Lucas was too ill to join us). Neila shared the funny iPad game "Heads Up!" and we laughed a lot playing this charades type game. It may become a new tradition. Things will continue to change as the family continues to expand in the coming years. As long as I remember that we have choices it will be something to celebrate.