These past couple weeks of December, I’ve been trying to brainstorm why everyone looks forward to Christmas. The solid answer seems to be that it all boils down to traditions.
Each family has their own – some obscure and unique, others loaned from culture, but every one treasured. To list each special and Pless-like tradition my family has accumulated over time would make the paper as long as Santa’s toy list, (and then some), but they are literally the reasons I crave Christmastime in the midst of the hottest day in July.
Of course – the tree. How can anyone start the month of December with no fir tree immediately dropping pine needles with each step as you carry it into the living room. It made Mother (and the cat) crazy, wafting its distinct woody scent through the house. She would pull out the largest boxes of antique ornaments I had ever seen from the attic to (gently) hang on each branch, complete with tinsel made from actual aluminum that she kept in its original 1950s cartoon-illustrated cardboard box. She and Daddy would wind strings of large multi-colored bulb lights that flickered and a never-ending strand of bubble lights around the tree, carefully placing each light in a perfect spot for all to admire. And as the baby in the family, I would place the ancient revolving, red North Star at the top as a final hurrah! I would literally sit in front of the tree every day, admiring the family’s work, as the cat contemplated which antique ornament would be his next victim. Between the loose needles smashed into the Persian rug and the daily shattering of a 100-year-old ball or tiny glass trumpet, Mother was undoubtedly anticipating the first Thursday of the new year when it was time to clean up and put everything away.
Grandpa was a diabetic, so naturally on Christmas Eve, he wanted pizza and Coke, followed by some sort of dessert and coffee (decaf, of course). As long as I can remember, he invested in pizza as Mother and I prepared some sort of delicious sweet—indulging Grandpa in his sweet-and-salty tooth and giving us a break to prepare for Christmas morning brunch. Although he took the majority of leftovers home with him, we kept a little for ourselves to have as appetizers on Christmas morning, because nothing tastes better than cold pizza and Diet Coke on such a special morning (except bacon-wrapped Tater Tots).
As soon as my body got the faintest hint that morning had broken (hardly ever after 5:30 or 6 a.m.), I burst out of bed and flew down the stairs to see what Santa had awarded me for the year of Good Girlness. The year that “Santa had to leave and come back because a certain little girl came downstairs too early,” Mother installed a hook lock on the door at the bottom of the staircase to use on the occasions that I was up too early. (That was the year I had begged for a Felicity American Girl doll. How could I wait any longer than 2 a.m.? Surely Santa had already come and gone by that time). To me, nothing looked more beautiful than the tree so thoughtfully decorated, with elegantly-wrapped gifts placed “just so” underneath, and the hand-crocheted stockings our mother had made for us brimming over with specific goodies for each of us.
Remembering that morning each year reminds me what it is about the season that makes us yearn for it: family traditions. My best memories are those in front of the tree, colorfully and brightly lit, with cold pizza and our goodies in hand, and the old JVC log-sized video camera sitting atop Mother or Daddy’s shoulder.
I only have a couple more years to enjoy the traditions my parents established for my family before I’m on my own. I will cherish them and look forward to each one, because now I’m reaching the point where I will be deciding how to borrow and create my own traditions to carry out each year. Knowing how I was when I was growing up and the potential of what my kids could be, God willing, I think my own traditions will include a hook lock!