See this picture?
It ain’t us.
When Jen announced that the theme for this week’s Spin Cycle was “traditions” – most notably, family traditions – I was rather nonplussed. While my ex-husband is third-generation Mexican American, the traditions of his family’s country have gradually been homogenized as his poor and uneducated grandparents assimilated into this country and the American culture. They’ve prospered along the way, due largely to this assimilation, educating themselves and their children, and when you couple that with Ex-husband’s deep shame of his race and heritage, our children know very little about where their paternal family came from and what their lives were like before immigrating to this country. Indeed, if you were to ask them (or even their father) about the cultural traditions of that side of the family, they’d most likely come back with “Tamales at Christmas, buñuelos for New Years, and menudo on Sundays.”
Which, I’m afraid, is more than they come up with for my side of the family – we are, for the most part, non-religious, middle-class WASPs of no particular country of origin. When asked about our family traditions, Oldest Son said, “We listen to Alice’s Restaurant every Thanksgiving!” Darling Daughter said, “Uh…we eat pie at Thanksgiving and we used to go drive around and look at the Christmas lights every year.” The Young One didn’t even attempt to assuage my guilt at our lack of family tradition, and simply said, “We’re too dysfunctional to have any traditions!”
Hmm, well, son – considering the fact that three out of five of you have survived to adulthood, I think we can safely say that we have a family tradition of not smothering our teenaged offspring with a pillow in the middle of the night.
I suppose compared to those of a solid ethnic and/or religious heritage, we seem a bit…unfettered? by custom and tradition. However, my completely unhelpful children aside, that’s not necessarily true. Our customs and traditions have evolved over the years, but they do exist. Most of these customs and traditions are centered around our very secular celebrations of Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, but they’re still there.
It’s funny, but I don’t really even remember what we did for Thanksgiving every year when I was a kid, so it couldn’t have been that notable. But as my brother and sisters and I grew up, married and had families of our own, Thanksgiving Day was traditionally spent with our spouse’s family – we spent Friday at my mother’s house, enjoying a second holiday meal, since neither she nor any of us had any particular desire to fight the crowds on Black Friday (to this day, no matter what my plans are, I avoid shopping like the plague the day after Thanksgiving). But after my divorce and the subsequent end of my relationship with The Young One’s father, that all changed. Most importantly, my mother was no longer with us. Then there was the fact that I, as the only divorced one of my mother’s kids, was without any children on alternating holidays – that right there will throw you through a loop.
Growing up, Christmas Eve was always spent with my mother’s family at my maternal grandparent’s house. Christmas morning was for Santa Claus and the unbridled excesses that came with the Fat Guy’s yearly visit. Christmas evening was usually spent at the house of my step-father’s parents, partaking of a formal meal. As we grew up, that didn’t change much – Christmas Eve was still spent with my mother’s family, Christmas morning with presents and Christmas evening with the ex’s folks. But, again, the divorce and parting of ways with Good Ex changed all that, and for two years I spent alternating holidays very, very alone.
Then I met Beloved. Freshly divorced as well, he was also at a bit of a loss as to what to do with those empty, alternating holidays. It took very little time to decide to coincide our “alone” holidays so we could spend them together. After a time, we began incorporating the “kids” holidays with each other, and by the time we moved in together the holidays we had all five of the kids with us became something of a loud, exciting, expensive madhouse. I have pictures of that first Christmas somewhere – it looks as if a present factory exploded in our living room. Later, I told Beloved we should have just done away with the tree, stacked the gifts in one huge pile and thrown tinsel over it.
But despite the upheaval of divorce, the blending of two families, the fact we’ve moved 1,200 miles away from my home of 42 years and that 3 of 5 of the kids are grown and on their own, I’ve managed to salvage a few traditions (I don’t care what my kids say).
Our Thanksgiving meal is pretty traditional; what we eat, when we eat and even how it is prepared. We usually watch at least some of the Macy’s parade, at some point during the day we listen to Alice’s Restaurant and we always watch the Cowboys play their traditional Thanksgiving Day game.
For years, if it is at all possible, we’ve decorated for Christmas the Sunday evening after Thanksgiving. We listen to Christmas music and drink egg nog while we do it (these days that decorating includes two trees).
I do some sort of Holiday cooking/baking every year, even if it’s just making a ton of fudge and hauling it to the office for the guys there. The Christmas party we have for our employees, in our home, has also become a tradition in recent years.
I have bought each of the kids a Hallmark Keepsake Ornament every year for I don’t know how long. It’s the first gift they are allowed to open on Christmas morning.
I send (usually irreverent and humorous) Christmas cards every year.
We do manage to get out and drive around to look at the holiday lights and decorations at some point every year. There’s no Swiss Avenue-type display here in Podunk, but it’s still worth the drive around town.
Opening Christmas gifts has it’s own set of traditions in our home; we start with the youngest child in the family and everyone watches him open his presents, which I usually hand out. After that, we go with the next youngest child and work our way up to the oldest person in the family. This is the way it’s been done in my family for as long as I can remember, and it’s the way it will remain in my family after I’m gone, I hope.
Christmas dinner isn’t as traditional as Thanksgiving – I am not threatened with death by the kids if I don’t make the same thing every year like I am at Thanksgiving feel free to change it up a bit, but we always have a special meal. In the dining room, no less.
So, there are our most of our traditions. They’re not much, but they’re ours so that makes them special. I am especially excited about the new tradition that will begin this year at the Sushi Bar:
Spoiling the grandkids rotten.