Sunday, December 18, 2011

Family traditions … one of the cornerstones of happiness

Tradition: A long-established custom or belief that has been passed on.

Do you remember the play, “Fiddler on the Roof?”  The song, Tradition, sang by Topol opens with the question, “And, how do we keep our balance?  One word … Tradition.”  Later, he asks, “How did this tradition get started?”  And, he responds, “I don’t know, but it is a tradition.  And because of these traditions everyone knows who he is …

I am a believer in family traditions. There is something almost sacred in these events. In my family we had many Christmas traditions.  Being the seventh son and the second to the youngest of nine siblings, certain ‘brotherly love’ traditions were also honored during the holidays.

Christmas Cookies1 For example, we always decorated the house the weekend following Thanksgiving. My mother also started baking Christmas cookies that weekend. She knew that there would be no Christmas cookies left for the holidays if she didn’t hide them from her ‘always hungry’ children. The problem with that idea was that we knew her hiding places.

For the next thirty days we would raid her favorite spots and liberate a few cookies from the confines of their dark, tinfoil-covered prison. One of the secrets passed on from brother to brother was the importance of restacking the cookies to make the plate look like it had never been touched. And it never failed to amaze me that when guests started arriving that my mother would shake her head and comment that she thought she had baked more cookies this year.

Christmas Eve was when we opened presents at our house. BeforeSanta Claus that happened, however, my father would take any of us still young enough to believe in Santa Clause or old enough to shut up about there not being a Santa Claus on a drive through the town to see all the decorated houses. It never ceased to amaze us that Santa was always able to show up within the excruciatingly long hour we drove around town.

Candlelight Services After exchanging gifts, it was time for the Candlelight Service at our church. The entire family sat in one pew and we sang all the Christmas carols. When we returned home my mother had a large pot of chili simmering. Since she was the one who had to do the laundry, she issued each of the boys a dishtowel to wrap around our necks to protect the white shirts and ties. For dessert, she would bring out the last of the cookies and apologize for not making more.

Christmas Day was always church, fellowship (story time), aChristmas dinner large ‘dinner’ (I come from Minnesota where dinner is lunch), and visits with friends and neighbors. By now there were no cookies left so we had to settle for pie and homemade candy.

I have to give my mother some credit, however. One year she found a new hiding place for the cookies. We tore the house apart looking high and low, but she succeeded in keeping them hidden. The only problem was she couldn’t remember where she hid them. Six months later she came across the cookies in an old clothes trunk in the basement.

Fortunately for me, my wife’s family has their own traditions for Christmas. Yes, many are different, but they are still something that we look forward to every year. And, they remind me of my childhood, and Santa, a midnight chili feast, candlelight services, Christmas cookies, the importance of family and so much more.

I hope this story brought back fond memories of your childhood Christmases as well as the wonderful, blessed event that will be here in a week.

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