December 12, 2011

Un-Perfect Holiday Traditions

Let the magic begin... #christmas

My husband and I have always been ones that DRIVE at Christmas. We're both only children from divorced families, so our kids have four sets of grandparents. I've been doing the holidays at my in-law's house for nearly 20 years. Our personal family tradition, without us really deciding on it, has become an annual gypsy holiday traveling adventure - packing up suitcases and listening to Christmas music while the Texas miles stretch out behind us.

When I got married and had kids, I imagined the type of traditions I wanted for my kids. I figured creating new traditions would fix the dysfunction of my past - and that I could create something for my kids that I didn't have.

What I had in mind for the holidays was much like a Norman Rockwell painting: everyone in the family bowing for a prayer, reading from scripture about Jesus' birth and what it meant for humanity... you know - the "reason for the season" stuff. In my ideal, all of us went to some sort of church service, we baked birthday cakes for Jesus instead of cookies for Santa, we gave presents or money to the poor, and we sometimes met in the mountains somewhere at a cabin that everyone rented so there would be memories of snow.

Morgan's Christmassy Doodles. #christmas #art #illustration

In my dreams of how Christmas was to be there were always exterior lights on the house. The checkbook always had enough money in it for at least one nice gift for every family member. Oh, and the lights on the tree (that promptly went up the day after Thanksgiving) never went out on the bottom half because the cat chewed through the wiring.

My perfect Christmas included caroling and driving through Christmas light displays with everyone singing and merry (and no one got a ticket on the way there because they were speeding). The glass ornaments never broke, and the carpet never got huge hot chocolate stains, either. In my bubble of utopian holiday bliss there were plenty of kisses under mistletoe and Daddy always stayed up until midnight on purpose - just so he could ring in the new year with yours-truly.

Cue the loud snap as I wake up from that candy-land dream... fast forward to real life...

Each year I packed up the suitcases for our week or two with the relatives and the reality of how the holidays weren't measuring up to my ideals became more and more clear. Things weren't matching up to my "White Christmas" dreams. Not anywhere close. [Forget the fact that we live in Texas and snow is an anomaly.]

There are some traditions that just aren't possible any more. People don't live forever.
[My grandpa wasn't carving the turkey any more in my grandmother's pink dining room that stayed meticulously clean. My cousin who grew up playing with me in the cow pastures chasing barn cats was gone. There won't be any more root-beer floats watching Johnny Carson with Pawpaw and hatching plans to get up and peek on the grownups as they play Santa and wrap gifts.]

Sometimes there are conflicts of schedule or family situations you just can't fix.
[My dad didn't call me at Christmas last year and my kids haven't seen him for ages. My mom might not come with us at Christmas and probably will be spending the holidays with her sister. My in-laws don't go to church. The extended family on my mom's side hardly ever get together in one place any more, and when they do, it seems that there's never time to sit down and really spend time together like we did when Mawmaw was around and everyone was "spending the night" to open gifts in the morning.]

Isn't it funny how your past and present merge in a sugar-plum fairy ink-blot test of your emotional state each Christmas? No wonder people get the "holiday blues". Even with a strong faith, the holidays can be a time of broken dreams and second guessing yourself. I can't imagine how mixed up the Santa camp can get when removing the baby from the manger.

Even though I had aspirations for new traditions, I never was able to get that perfect Christmas to materialize... and shucks, my big kids aren't toddlers any more. One of them is turning 15 this winter. Time is running out.

Naughty ornament-breaking elf is better off with the stuffed snowman. #Christmas

Am I going to be bitter about it and keep trying to measure the holidays up against a pipe dream? Or can I find a way to make the best of real life and make the most of the time we have with our treasured family members - even if they do holidays differently than our Norman Rockwell vision of how holidays should look?

Do you have a perfect vision of how Christmas should look? How does it really look in your family? Have you found ways to create new traditions in your family?

How about sharing some of the traditions YOUR family does that you LOVE for the holidays... counting your holiday blessings and being thankful for the small things that make the season special for you?

My Family's Merrily Un-perfect Christmas Tradition Goodness:

...bubble lights and forest animal ornaments with real fur at my dad's house... his passion for Christmas was contagious and I loved the way he always took us to the Christmas Store in Dallas to buy a special ornament when I was a kid.

...I love how we've always taught the kids about the real St. Nick and his true story, about Jesus, and how my daughter told me "I'm so glad you taught us the truth" when she was about 6 after seeing Polar Express... husband and my first Christmas together, getting lost on the way to my grandma's house and shopping together to buy everyone in the family a present - something we haven't been able to do for a very long time as a one-income family. Christmas dinner with trimmings (and 'chocolate worm-pie') at Kev's mom's and the Lutheran candle-light service we all attended for so many years with them.... and opening presents on Christmas eve after we get home (where everyone got a "Santa Banana" gift as well, which was a gag-gift that told about that person's personality or past)...

...presents and sugary sweets with Pop and Nana and their much needed Christmas money they so generously share with their kids, spending lazy mornings in bed and having Pop fix you eggs "Sunny-Side-Up" whenever you want them (how he always makes me crispy bacon and has oatmeal cream pies and Special Dark chocolate bars stashed for me), games that all the siblings and their spouses play until the wee hours and all the joking and laughing that goes on....

...the kids cuddling with Chickie (my mom), eating out with her and going to see a movie or browse an antique shop (how she can never say no - and always buys them something special) - going to see the drive-thru lights with her and having her help put up the tree (we love how she always wants a copy of every photo we take - it shows how much she loves us and the kids)...

...going to see the Nutcracker with my dear friend Paula and her children, and watching my niece sing and dance to it in her recital...

...the anticipation we all have to rush home and see all these people who are so dear to us... the thought of spending time on the road with my family, drinking coffee and hot chocolate and listening to and singing Christmas songs... the warmth in my heart to know that not only did God give me the gift of salvation through his tiny newborn son... but He also blessed me with THIS FAMILY - the wonderful gift of love... the people that we can touch, hold, hug, laugh and cry with. Life is so precious when you share it. Christmas is the same.

I want to start a tradition of being thankful - and positive - and truly counting my blessings as presents from the Lord this year. I can't wait to add new things to the Christmas Goodness list this year.

Link up with me if you have some holiday wonder to share!


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Anonymous said...

Thank you. I need a little perspective "adjustment" and your post fit the bill. I can wallow about all of the things that don't measure up to my expectations, or I can be thankful for what I have and try to do the best with it.

work for us as an academic freelance writers said...

very beautiful!

homeschoolchris said...

Traditions do not have to be perfect, just ours! We get as much of the family together in one room and eat good food, laugh and play games. Before Christmas Eve we help out at Toys for Tots and pass out food baskets for a Crisis Center. It is important to become involved in others and spread the spirit of giving! We try include anyone who is lonely or sad in our celebrations. said...

Thank you for a wonderful post and the opportunity to link-up! I've posted about traditions I grew up with before coming to the States... some which we have modified, some we continue, some we have completely dropped, and some my DH and I now want to reinstate with our daughters! It's very interesting to step back and take a minute to think of traditions. Specially when you grow up differently... :-)



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