As a new family, and with Mon Cœur (MC), who, at two and a half is beginning to understand the concept and spirit of Christmas, I have contemplated past traditions and wondered about starting new ones. There are many traditions that my family has had throughout the years, which I remember fondly.
Obvious choice, right? My mom’s parents would host an open house every year, and I remember every year getting together the day after Christmas at their house and seeing everyone: our cousins, extended family, Mom’s friends from childhood, our grandparents neighbors. Everyone was welcome, and no one was a stranger. As kids we would run around the house chasing each other, and stop to grab a cocktail shrimp or a bit of spinach dip, some sugar cookies, or any other yummy food that was scattered throughout the house. Older cousins would attack us with tickles until we couldn’t breathe anymore, or just listen to our young reparties (repartees) and smile and laugh.
On Dad’s side, we would get together with his mother and brothers and their family the weekend before Christmas and we would have a big feast made by our grandmother. I always enjoyed this time, because it was the one time of year we’d all get together. I also always got to eat about a half a can of black olives, which…yum. We’d get a handmade gift, something crocheted by our grandmother – a hat, an afghan, a scarf, etc.
As with any family that grows and ages, traditions change…torches pass, fall, or go out, and life continues to move on.
My dad had begun a family tradition recently, and I along with the rest of the family enjoyed and appreciated this Christmas gift every year. Daddy had a gift with words and understood the merits of a good family story passed down. As his mother was aging, he decided to have her share a story each year. He would type up the story, add a family photo or recipe that corresponded to the story and would make copies for all of the family. When we got together for our annual Christmas party, Daddy would share the story aloud and pass around a copy of the letter afterwards to everyone.
I had the chance to interview and record Daddy for a model project about three years ago, using the wonderful resources that NPR’s StoryCorps has available on their website. It’s a project I’ve often given to classes, and one that in the end says is their favorite because of the information they glean from another generation and the bonds they create through the process.
I wish I had assigned myself this project more often. I never did collect enough stories from him, or our other family members who have gone before us.
I didn’t want to lose this new tradition, so I had all intentions of contacting my Uncles to ask them each for a story. This task has been rolling around in my brain since Thanksgiving. It’s now eleven o’clock on Christmas Eve as It type this post and I have yet to contact one them to set up a time to chat. I admire my father for what he was able to do to share a small slice of family history with us, and I am disappointed that I have fallen short.
Every year since before I was born, up through 2016, Santa would write and leave letters in our stockings. Key words throughout the letter corresponded to something in the stocking and it was up to us to see how it all fit together. It was something Daddy started when he and Mom first were married, and according to his last letter, it was something he enjoyed doing for the family and was inspired by Mom.
As a child, I remember every year loving the stocking time when we would dump out all the contents, sit surrounded by them and take our letter and try to match. I loved how Santa mentioned things that we had accomplished or done throughout the year or things that were coming up. True to all Santa letters, it allowed Dad a chance to say what he didn’t say (or didn’t get the chance to say) throughout the year.
As we grew older, it became more and more of a casse-tête (a brain-teaser, a puzzle) and became a source of family contention as Santa tried to continue to correspond key words to stocking items. Things we may not need or want, but received because it helped to write the letter.
2017 was the last year we received a Santa letter and it was a blanket memo to the whole family. Santa was tired, and the family had exponentially grown – it had become too much…It was time for our new families (my sister’s and mine) to begin new traditions of our own…
This is our first Christmas without Daddy, and so I asked Mom for the Santa letters, I knew she had faithfully saved and organized them every year for us all. I organized and bound the letters into folders and hesitated to read mine (and Chouchou’s). I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but that in reading it, I would feel a part of Daddy was still with me. I read them – and remembered details throughout the year that I had forgotten. I laughed, I cried, I felt so grateful that the time was taken to write these and that Mom had saved them all for us.
I didn’t want the Santa letter tradition to not continue. So, in true fashion like Daddy, I sat writing Santa letters to us three this afternoon while MC napped. It’s my first year, and I don’t feel I can even compare to Daddy’s, but it’s a tradition for us, and something that helps me to highlight fun memories and accomplishments throughout the year.
I’ve read the last letter a couple of times since, and every time I cry. I read it knowing that a part of Daddy is still alive through these letters and memories and I lament the fact that we don’t have any real traditions of our own yet. We try to keep up with sides of the family, bouncing between Chouchou’s family and mine every-other-year-ish. This was the first year we were here at our home, by ourselves, and it honestly felt weird.
MC and I went to a Christmas Eve service and then when we got back home, Chouchou was home from work and we had dinner together. MC suggested we have dinner and a movie, so we watched (to our great delight) the classics we grew up with: Frosty the Snowman and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. It was a quiet Christmas Eve, and it was perfect for us this year.
A Merry Christmas to all,
Resources from StoryCorps:
Great Questions: https://storycorps.org/participate/great-questions/
Educators resources: https://storycorps.org/participate/the-great-thanksgiving-listen/for-educators/