Holiday Traditions Invisible to Some

Christmas is a season rich in traditions – except apparently in our home.

“Why don’t we have any Christmas traditions?” our sixteen-year-old son recently said to my wife.

“What do you mean,” she said, “we’ve lots of traditions – just look around.”

I’d never really thought about it before but family traditions just might be invisible to children while they grow up at home. If, from a child’s point of view, you repeat the same actions year after year, isn’t it just life as normal? Where does the line between a regular action and a tradition separate?

My wife and I found ourselves sitting down and easily recanting a long list of family traditions – at least in our eyes – occurring with each Christmas season. Our son’s oblivious perspective – although enlightening – gave us a great moment of pause to reflect on what a tradition really means.

We began laughing and tossing out what appeared to be obvious “traditions” and wondering how our son never recognized them as such.

We both smiled as we remembered our daughter, obviously terrified, placing a plate of homemade shortbread cookies on the fireplace hearth and running away in fear Santa might come down the chimney at any moment. To this day, with teenagers in the house, we still make the cookies from a family recipe given to me by my grandmother – and leave a plate for Santa.

There is also the “regular occurrence” of selecting a Christmas tree as a family. For years our son refused to go shopping until he could find his “Christmas tree shopping hat” – and old, red and white stocking cap. We can remember keeping track of him by watching the little white ball on the tip of the cap bouncing between the rows of trees as he raced through looking for just the right tree. As the years progressed, the cap eventually found itself tucked safely beneath the cover of his jacket, but never a year passes without a mention and us celebrating the spirit of the cap.

Collecting ornaments is another area we’ve found ourselves regularly practicing. Each year we shop as a family for one special ornament to hang on the tree – the ornament selected to reflect an identifiable moment in our life at the time. And this “regular occurrence” actually began decades ago when my wife and I purchased an ornament to signify our first year together. Granted, we bought it in the middle of July on a clearance table of a hardware store, but seven months earlier it had signified a commitment neither of us were yet ready to acknowledge. In the years following our collection – now in the dozens – we successfully keep the simple, round bulbs hidden in a storage box. The decorating of our tree together is a walk down memory lane for all of us – exchanging and passing down stories and where we were in life at the time with each other.

As I said, our traditions list, although long, is not something we actively manage – it is just an integral part of the fabric of our life as a family. Furthermore, I’m sure everyone could easily do the same – whether it be a special dish made together or traveling to a grandmother’s for dinner. Traditions, I’ve learned this year, just might be something we can’t truly appreciate until we take the time to stop and reflect on what we’ve naturally accomplished as a family over time.

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