Thursday, December 22, 2005

It's tradition...

It may sound strange to admit, but the word "tradition" actually brings a negative connotation to me during this time of year. As I wrote this, I could here Father Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof belting out, "Tradition!" in my head (By then end of this story, you will understand more why this song has popped into my head!)

In my family, we had a lot of traditions around the holidays. Growing up in a small town, we spent every Christmas in exactly the same way. Christmas Eve was spent at my Grandmother's house, just a few miles away from my own. My Mom's sister's family would drive in from a nearby city, and we'd have a nice dinner and open family presents the night before Christmas. My sister is many years younger than me, and she too had a special tradition she re-enacted each year as well. That is, Christmas morning she would wake up at 4:30 to 5 a.m. each year. My room happened to be the last room before the present paydirt--the living room where Santa's haul would be displayed finely all over our fireplace hearth and mantle. My sister would come into my room and beg, beg, beg for us to go see what Santa brought. I never understood why she didn't just go in and see herself, but I guess she wanted to have me go in with her.

Ironically, my sister practically has to be awakened by a bullhorn, and she STILL can get quite ugly, yelling and screaming until she gets to go back to sleep. (Yes, she is an adult now. Let's not go here...I could vent all day on this one.) So, it was always hilarious to me that on this ONE day of the year, she managed to get up extra early and even in a good mood, eagerly willing to rise without a fight. I would wave her off and tell her she'd be in trouble if she didn't wait at least until six a.m. We never made it to that, but I usually bought myself a good 15 minutes or so more of sporadic slumber before I gave in and we checked out our surprises.

So, we'd wake up my folks and go hit the gifts. Once we explored and found all of Santa's most generous offerings, we'd then move to the wrapped family gifts. As my dad prepared Mom's coffee and started getting breakfast going, we'd hand out our wrapped gifts for one another. Once we opened the gifts, we'd enjoy a huge breakfast made by Dad, who seemed to pull out all the stops on Christmas morning for our dining pleasure. And, before 7 a.m., we'd be done and starting to feel sluggish and sick from eating candy, breakfast, and doing all of this before most people were even up for the day.

We'd play with toys and then crash for a few hours before we'd go to my Grandmother's to see what was in HER stockings for us and have the Christmas day smorgasbord. My grandmother's stockings were often filled with downright funny things, but they looked so fantastic. Most were not stockings, but actually hand-sewn sequined cowboy boots made of felt, with our names displayed in various places in beads. Inside, you could be guaranteed a funny assortment of cheap panty hose, Clinque bonus makeups, a huge hershey's candy bar and an apple and an orange to fill the bottom. I think my grandmother must have though those fruits would balance out all the crap we ate over the holiday somehow! We'd spend the rest of Christmas day playing with our cousins and then head home that evening to enjoy any toys that we didn't bring over to my Grandmother's that day.

While all of this sounds wonderful, and it always truly was, there is one problem I have had with these traditions. That is, in my family traditions are to be followed by the book. And, if anyone comes along that changes or needs to alter a tradition, it is unacceptable. My aunt has remarried a couple of times, and each new husband was treated coldly and unwelcome to our traditions, like strangers in our midst. (Sadly, my uncle recently admitted that he only finally felt like our real uncle when my son randomly hugged him at a family gathering. He and my aunt have been married around 10 years now.)

It was very hard for my husband to break into this tradition as well. The second year we were married was the first year I actually spent Christmas away from my family. We celebrated at his parents and then for New Years' we went to my folks for a belated holiday. Just before Christmas, we got a video in the mail that my sister had made just after Thanksgiving. She was partially trying to be funny, but also trying to make DaddyCat feel awful for "taking away my big sister on Christmas." It was shots of the dining table without me at it. Shots of the presents, without me there to open them. Shots of her looking depressed, etc. You get the picture. My mother was almost openly angry about me not being there too.

A few years ago, I was approached by my sister and cousins and asked to be the person to go to my dear Grandmother and request that we change our gift exchange to have the adults draw one name. None of the grandkids could afford really to be getting all their cousins gifts and the whole thing was getting out of control as our family grew. So, I cautiously tried to talk to my grandmother about this. I was very close with her, but we fell into a horrible argument where she told me that I was being selfish and that she would be getting anyone she wanted to a gift. It was tradition and how could I suggest such a thing? Christmas was about giving to those you love! (We did end up letting her do her thing and all exchanging names in the end, but not before I was blasted thoroughly for the idea.)

And, sadly, this hasn't improved over the years with new family additions, marriages, and so forth. My Grandmother is now gone, but my Mother and Sister have continued on in their unbending insistance that everything always stay the same, with the same people, the same traditions, same, same, same--no matter what!

Families change and, because if that I feel traditions have to adapt and change too. And, when you dig your feet in and refuse to let that happen, you make everyone else around you miserable and unwelcome in the process. And, isn't that defeating what Christmas is all about really? This is the main reason I am dangerously close to changing our Christmas day traditions to always being at our home, where anyone and everyone will be welcomed no matter what plans it may change.

Today, I got a phone call from my little sister. While talking about Christmas plans, she let me know that her family would not be opening any of my parents gifts or other family gifts until we come the week after Christmas). I sighed and asked why that was necessary, almost knowing from previous years what was coming. I said they should open their presents on Christmas and we can just do ours and the ones we bring when we come later on. "No," she said in a bitter tone, "You are MY family and we will do it UNTIL you are HERE."

I guess I should not have been surprised by her remark. Some things never change in my family. After all, it's TRADITION!


Blogger Plain Jane said...

Ha! ha! that scene from Fiddler popped into my head the minute I saw the word Tradition on your blog - the spousal and I sing that all the time when we hear the word. :)

Here from Michele's!

8:54 PM, December 22, 2005  
Anonymous Deana said...

Family is grand isn't it? Tradition can be hell but it's tradition. Michele sent me. Love your banner...

8:57 PM, December 22, 2005  
Blogger Plumkrazzee said...

Funny. Ah, tis the season. Michele sent me tonight.

9:49 PM, December 22, 2005  
Blogger Vanessa said...

This post reminds me of Chevy Chase in "Christmas Vacation" - "we're going to have an Old-fashioned Family Christmas whether we like it or not!!"

Who is Michele?

8:57 AM, December 23, 2005  
Blogger Karen Rani said...

This made me thankful that as our family has evoled, so have our 'traditions' at Christmas and at other times...I'm sorry your family hasn't done the same...that is pretty sad.

On the flip side to that, I'm glad you and hubby are doing what YOU want. Good for you! Have a Merry Christmas!

2:53 PM, December 23, 2005  
Blogger Suburban Turmoil said...

Ugh. Just. Ugh. Tell them to GROW UP, already! You have your own family now and you call the shots about what you guys do...

Oh and merry Christmas! I hope you have a wonderful next few days!!

9:48 PM, December 23, 2005  
Anonymous Angela said...

You know, I'm a firm believer in building your *own* traditions in your family. Sure there's a part of you that will always be connected to your sister, mother, etc, but you've got your own nest now with your own traditions and your own schedule. How sad that your family can't accept that and be happy for you.

With that being said I hope that you and yours have a very Merry Christmas tomorrow!

12:52 PM, December 24, 2005  
Blogger Masked Mom said...

Sounds like heartburn and stress headaches are the natural extension of these kinds of traditions, huh?

Wishing you luck!

1:50 PM, December 24, 2005  
Anonymous irene said...

merry Christmas momcat to you and your family!

1:43 AM, December 25, 2005  

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