Some people have Christmas traditions that predate their existence. Ask many folks about their favorite holiday memory and they can easily recount traditions passed down and instilled so deeply that they cannot imagine a holiday without them–dinner tables overflowing with family recipes, delicate vintage glass ornaments carefully hung on evergreen branches, or maybe a quirky derby hat tree topper. For some, the Christmas season resonates the loss of loved ones. Many of you shared your heartfelt stories with us in the comments of Ben’s post about loss last week. We appreciate so many of you sharing those pieces of your intimate histories with us.
As for me, I have none of those types of Christmas memories and certainly none of those traditions. For religious reasons, my immediate family never celebrated a Christmas that I can remember. Christmas day in my childhood home was, at best, uneventful and at worst a bleak, stressful day filled with emotions over all the things we weren’t allowed to experience. The running joke in our family was to sing the Merle Haggard song “If We Make It Through December.” One year in particular stands out in my mind. My grandmother bought me a basketball goal as a non-Christmas gift. My father assembled it for us on Christmas day, but during installation the shiny white backboard with the perfect red stripes snapped clean in half, leaving jagged fiberglass edges sticking out like two halves of a broken heart. As the tears started flowing my dad quickly rebounded and used the broken pieces as a template, tracing around them with a thick carpenter’s pencil and taking his circular saw to an old piece of plywood from the shed. That weathered plywood basketball goal stood for years in our driveway, where it was impossible to dribble a ball on the pea gravel anyway. I could play a decent game of H.O.R.S.E., though.
As I got older I eventually drifted from the religious pedagogue of my childhood. I floated along for a while, unsure of my place in the holiday world. I attended Christmas parties with my friend’s families and witnessed their traditions but I didn’t celebrate my first official Christmas until 2003 when I became engaged to my husband. I even have a “My First Christmas” Hallmark ornament to commemorate the occasion. Christmas traditions didn’t begin to evolve for me until we moved into our current home, which at times feels like a close relative to Kevin McAllister’s house in Home Alone. Our stately red brick neo-colonial home screams “Christmas traditions begin here!”
Our son was two years old when we moved in to our new home; nearly three when we celebrated our first Christmas in this house in 2010. It was the best Christmas I had ever experienced. I could feel the magical spirit of Christmas that I had been desperately seeking for so many years. Seeing it through my baby boy’s eyes, I finally understood what all the fuss was about. The magic of the holiday culminated in a single photograph that I took one night in 2010.
What began as a tutorial on how to take glowing photos of your Christmas tree has turned into one of my most cherished Christmas traditions. Since that night I have taken a similar picture of my son in front of our tree every year, and I plan to try to capture this image until he’s at least eighteen.
Maybe even forty.
I love that the tradition began organically, without much planning or thought, but blooms stronger every year as our son gets older. And taller. This collection of images gives me photographic evidence of his growth throughout the years.
After that near perfect 2010 Christmas season, my husband and I made a pact to always be home for Christmas. We want to spend Christmas morning alone as a family opening gifts and enjoying our time together. We want our son to have holiday memories filled with warmth and love and twinkling lights. Memories of sugar cookies and hot chocolate Polar Express parties with his friends. Memories of the happiness and comfort and peace that is the Christmas spirit.
Memories of home.
From all of us here at FOLK magazine, we wish you a very Merry Christmas.
What are your favorite Christmas traditions?