As I watch my son and his wife create Christmas traditions for their family, I can't help but reflect on the traditions that I grew up with and then created for my own family. When I was a child my parents created a magical atmosphere for the Christmas celebration. Dad would bring home the tree and all of us would help to decorate it. Dad instructed us to hang individual strands of tinsel from each branch, draping them evenly and carefully not to 'wrinkle' them; then mom would come in and start throwing handfuls of the silvery strings at the tree letting them fall where they may. Once decorated dad would bring out my favorite item; it was a small lamp with a fan of colored glass that turned in front of the light. He would set this little lamp on the floor facing the tree and when it was turned on the tree magically changed color every few seconds; green, red, blue…. I sat and watched this tree of many colors for hours.
Then the night came that we would all load up in the car and drive all around the city looking at the wonderful Christmas decorations until we finally ended up at Grandma's house. There we would open presents while our parents, grandmother, and aunt watched and visited. It was while we were away that Santa would arrive at our house leaving great piles of gifts under our own tree. As soon as we got home we could see the evidence that Santa had been there and we would all run inside to see what he had left. He always ate the cookies and drank the milk that we left; and there was always a footprint on moms clean hardwood floor. I don't know how my parents made it through with us kids pumped full of Christmas candies and playing with new toys well into the night. The next morning, Christmas Day, mom would be up at 4 am to make a huge dinner.
About noon on Christmas Day dozens of people descended upon our home. The place smelled of pumpkin, apple and pecan pies, turkey with stuffing, burnt sugar candies and pine; everyone that came through the door would say "ummm smells so good" or "can't wait for that great smelling food". The noise level in that house rose to such a degree that I imagined the whole world could hear us. More gifts were exchanged and there was laughter and games and pictures taken. It would be late into the night before people started gathering up children who had fallen asleep on the floor with their toys, and leaving for their own homes.
When my father died these Christmas traditions died with him. But when I had my own son I remembered how important these traditions had been to me so I worked to create similar memories for him. We adopted the first Saturday of December as our "Christmas Tree Day" when we would drive into the country to a U-Cut farm and find our tree; we even made up a song about this day:
"It's Saturday morning, and you know it's pouring
But that doesn't matter, 'cause it's Christmas tree day
It's Christmas tree day dear, no matter the weather
We'll find one together, 'cause its Christmas tree day"
We would carry our tree home and decorate it together eating pizza for dinner. We started making candies and cookies on the last Saturday before Christmas and delivered plates of goodies to all our neighbors. We restarted the Christmas Eve drive that I remembered from my childhood; only instead of just looking at decorated houses we also made it a quest to find Santa flying across the Sky (of course Santa comes to the PNW very early in the evening). When we returned home from our drive, we could see that Santa had come and left gifts for us under our tree; and just like when I was a kid, he ate the cookies and drank the milk, and there was usually a foot print or some reindeer dust left behind as well. It was just my son and I but the tree was usually surrounded by dozens of gifts, we would open ours on Christmas Eve and leave those that we had purchased or made for the guests that would be coming for dinner on Christmas.
Like my mother had done during my childhood, I rose early to start cooking for my guests. Often instead of Turkey I would make a Prime Rib dinner with all the sides that come with Prime Rib as well as those that are commonly served with turkey; stuffing, pea salad, mac and cheese, sweet potatoes with marshmallow, pumpkin, apple, and pecan pies, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes with gravy (both turkey and beef), dinner rolls, cranberry sauce, apple sauce, and a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. We would invite family and friends who would come in the early afternoon and stay until late into the night. Like the gatherings of my childhood we would laugh and play games, and exchange gifts, and eat until we couldn't possibly eat another bite.
My son now an adult with a family of his own, he and his wife are starting their own traditions; combining those that I introduced and those that my daughter-in-law experienced in her family. They travel to grandparents homes for sleepovers and dinners, and gift exchanges. They also bring home a tree to decorate together, they tell stories of Santa Claus who magically appears while they are off on a holiday visit; and I even heard my son singing our old Christmas Tree Day song. As the years pass and their family grows I am certain that old and new traditions will emerge and these young parents will create memories for my grandchildren to share with future generations.