Monday, November 16, 2009

Wistful (kinda) rhymes with Mistletoe

by Sophie


If you ever doubted that holidays are all about traditions, go get yourself a couple of teenagers. Their awkward loping famished selves will confound you with their refusal to conform to any standard, expectation, or societal norm 360 days of the year, but just try changing one tiny little detail of your family holiday practices and prepare to be run over in a raging whirlwind of adolescent angst.

Put a plaid bow over the fireplace instead of the red velvet...try a new stuffing recipe for Thanksgiving...serve a frittata for Christmas breakfast instead of cinnamon rolls. Go ahead, try it - and then stick your fingers in your ears to protect them when your little sugars scream -

"BUT THAT'S NOT THE WAY WE ALWAYS DO IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

Well, I've learned that lesson. Yes ma'am, I dutifully drag all the boxes down from the attic and follow the holiday blueprint from years past, and it's all worth it too, for that sparkly little moment when the kids wander into the living room on Christmas morning and for a moment - if you squint - you can see them standing there in their footy pajamas, dragging their teddy bears along the floor.

Traditions glue one year to the next, and ease the passing of time and the relationship of all our past selves with the present and future ones. But inevitably there comes a day when it's time for change. Everything changes - we don't doubt it, but for some of us the transition is more demanding, more raw, more shattering than for others. I don't do change well...but even I can see, looking through the wrong end of the telescope, the one that makes close-up things look very far away, that change can be good.

Do you remember when you were a young adult, spending your first holiday away from home? Maybe you were with friends or a lover, in a strange town. Maybe you couldn't afford much. Maybe you were a little more homesick than you cared to admit, but I bet there was a moment when you realized hey - I can do this. Even without the gold star your dad always put on the top of the tree - the Willie Nelson Christmas cassette - the cookies your mom made with the rolling pin from Poland - - even without any of that, it was still Christmas, and it was still magic.

I remember standing a little forlornly in my first high-rise apartment watching my fiance rig up our tree and thinking of everything I missed, when he said "Well, we'll just start our own traditions." He came home the next day with a $14.99 ceramic nativity set from Ben Franklin and we set it up on the coffee table. I thought it was funny. It was badly painted and tacky and I figured I'd start collecting a real set - you know, the Wedgwood set you buy piece by piece over two decades - as soon as we had a little money.

But that never quite happened. We moved around, we grew up, we had kids. Every year I got that box out, with its cast-styrofoam bed that the pieces molded right into, and set up the nativity with a three-dollar bag of raffia "hay" from Michaels. Every year I put it away in January, shaking my head and thinking how I really had to find something nicer for next year.

But then suddenly twenty years went by, and that ugly set had pride of place every December. It was as much a part of the holiday as the stockings I sewed myself or the handprint plaster preschool ornaments. I am certain that my kids would be horrified if I ever suggested replacing the awkward misfired plaster wise men and camels and baby Jesus with stately bone china.

Until they find themselves out on their own one day. It won't be so many years now. The thought makes me terribly sad in a way; I can't imagine Christmas without them. But I'm excited for them too. They'll miss that ugly old nativity, but they have their own discoveries to make.


Anonymous said...

Dude, I'm 30, my sisters are... more than that, is all I'll delicately say, and last year was the very first year we didn't do everything the exact same way. Even when we all spread our wings, we kept tucking them back into the footie pajamas for one day out the year, even if schedules meant we had to move that day to December 27.

So don't be sad. Enjoy it now, and in the future, just insist on your way, even if it ends up being in January. They'll appreciate it.

Tom Neely said...

I can't believe I don't own that Willie Nelson xmas album. I'm sure it's a much needed piece in the puzzle that makes up our holiday traditions.

I remember our first christmas in our little one bedroom apartment in Oakland and scraping together as much holiday knick knacks as we could from Longs and Target and the likes. It sure is funny how one years scrapings turn into a lifetime's traditions.

Brad Parks said...

Aw, Soph, I love it when you do sappy. :)

Pop Culture Nerd said...

Oh, I'm all about the tradition. I've moved away and gotten married but have never spent a holiday away from my family. No matter where I am in the world and how broke, I drag my sorry ass back to my parents' home because I need that tradition and the plastic 20-year-old Christmas tree that gets thinner every year. And my dad's cooking. And midnight mass. And the ripping open of presents at 1:30 a.m. after mass (hey, it's technically Christmas morning) and staying up all night to play with our new toys.

Somewhere along the way, I decided I'm staying 12 forever.

Sophie Littlefield said...

Hey Mr. Neely, I can totally see the two of you in your cute apartment doing "awwww"-worthy :)

Brad, darlin, remember that little coach house we lived in right after we were married? The way you'd come home with flowers you stole from the neighbor's garden, how I always fixed your favorite - - oh, wait, oops, I forgot we weren't actually married for a minute there! How embarrassing.

PCN: this does not surprise me one little bit. :)

Brad Parks said...

Oh, gosh, of course I remember that! And how about that first Thanksgiving on our own, where we tried to cook our own turkey and didn't realize we had to remove the innards that had been stitched inside? The whole house smelled like cooked gizzard and we had to evacuate to the Mainwairings' house and... Oh, wait, we WEREN'T married? Then who the hell was I cooking gizzards with? Damn I'm confused.

Hailey.Juliet said...

Love the banter between you convention spouses...!
Sophie -- you do sappy better than anyone I know.
Signed, Misty-eyed in Oaktown

Sophie Littlefield said...

I love you, miss misty-eyed :)

Brad, in some alternate universe, I am even now pressing your shirts, and I've starched them just the way you like them. Hurry home, dear, "our" show is on tonight and I got biscuits from Popeyes. xo

Brad Parks said...

But in that same alternate universe, I will remind you that I am a Fully Modern Man, capable of pressing my own shirts, dear. And that tonight is NOT the night we're watching "our" show (which would be "Greek" on ABC Family Channel -- LOVE that show!). No, no. Tonight is supposed to be "Sophie's Choice" night, where we giggle about the William Styron reference and then turn out the lights and you get to decide what posi...

Oh, goodness me. There you were, bein' all nice and sappy, and I had to ruin it by getting smutty. I'm sorry, Soph, really. Nothing inappropriate for me from here on out, I promise. Well. Anyway. Thanks for making the Popeyes run. You know I love your biscuits.

Aw, damnit!

Pop Culture Nerd said...

Oh, nuts. The smut was getting good. I love fake domestic blog porn.

Martha Flynn said...

you lost me at cinnamon rolls. when do we get those?

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