It seems that Christmas more than any other time of year is a time for traditions. Our traditions connect us to the past, to those we love. They are familiar, comforting, and they give us a sense of belonging. There are those traditions that we cling to from our earliest days, the ones that we remember from our childhood, the ones that we just knew would last forever. There are other traditions that we love but bid farewell to and allow new traditions to take their place. And then there are those traditions that we expect to last through the ages.
I remember as a child Christmas was mostly about the big party at my grandparents’ house on Christmas Eve. Aunts, uncles, and cousins would join us for food, music, and, of course, presents. We would stay up late, everyone eating, talking, and generally being merry. My sisters and I would even plan some sort of entertainment — a play, concert, or dancing — that was generally ignored by the grown ups! If the weather was nice, we would all go caroling down the street. The night ended with a stop at Midnight Mass (I come from a Catholic family). Then, on Christmas morning, we would open presents and have breakfast at home before returning to my grandparents’ house for lunch and the inevitable Christmas nap in front of the TV.
By the time I hit high school, the always ignored entertainment portion of the night had long since faded away, and the caroling was fading, too. When, some years later, my grandmother’s health began to fail, my mom took over the celebration and hosted the Christmas Eve party at her house. Rather than everyone buying gifts for each other, she organized a “white elephant” exchange. There was still food, music, fun, and some of the extended family, but it was a new twist on the old tradition.
One tradition from my childhood seemed like it would go on forever. Growing up, there were five matching, but not identical, stockings, one for each of my sisters and me. Mom aka “Santa” would fill them with wonderful, unexpected gifts. When my oldest sister got married, a stocking was added for my brother-in-law. Three years later, they had a daughter, and my mom added yet another stocking. With five daughters, our family inevitably grew, and with each additional husband or child came another stocking. My mom collected things we never knew we needed or thought we wanted. Just last year she made a “mistake” and gave my sisters and me each ceramic duck toilet bowl cleaners that were clearly meant for our husbands. Throughout the year, she would pick up little things when she was out, getting great deals on all sorts of things to fill 21 stockings at Christmas. Even if we couldn’t be home on Christmas morning with her, a stocking would be waiting whenever we did arrive. This is the last year this tradition will happen, and of course, it is happening with a twist.
I was lucky to be home earlier this month for my niece’s wedding. Sadly, I won’t be able to return for Christmas, but while I was down south, I took out all the Christmas decorations and helped my family decorate my dad’s tree. In pulling things out, I discovered 21 plastic bags labeled with everyone’s names. My sisters and I had already found many, perhaps not all, of the stocking stuffers my mother had been gathering despite her illness. My younger daughter and I got to be “Santa’s” first helpers (Don’t worry, she didn’t see her own surprises!). We sorted through the many socks, tools, trinkets, and toys and put them into appropriate bags, or what we hope are the right bags! My mother couldn’t finish this tradition, so we helped bring it to fruition one last time, and now like so many traditions it too must fade, making way for something new.
As traditions have come and gone from my Christmas celebration over many years, the most important and longest lasting of all my Christmas traditions, that of attending Church, still remains and I hope will remain to my end. As a kid, I delighted in Midnight Mass, and now I look forward to the quiet celebration of Christmas morning Liturgy. After all, what would Christmas be without taking time for The Lord and celebrating Christ’s mass? For ultimately no matter how much we love our traditions and how deeply we feel them, whether we are talking about Christmas or Orthodoxy at large, it is not the traditions that are most important. Rather it is that we celebrate and worship the One True God, that we live by His commandment, loving one another and doing all to His Glory.
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