It’s the time of the year again when age-old family traditions come out and when innovative traditions are created. Our thoughts and beliefs are played out in action, with the embracing of rituals and symbolism. This is according to the Webster dictionary, where tradition is “the inherited, established, or customary pattern, thought, action, or behaviour”.
These are the rituals that I followed religiously as a kid. However, many of my traditions have changed and have been adapted as I have changed and adapted. Old traditions are constantly being made new with new formats and designs. These are some of my traditions and what they mean to me.
Hi there, Rachel here. So when Savvy first suggested sharing our Christmas traditions, I blinked at my screen in silence. My family hasn’t got traditions. In fact, my parents raised me and my brother to not get attached to traditions. Life changes and we needed to learn how to adapt.
That’s why the traditions I listed below are dependent on where I have lived: Minnesota, Chicago, England, Boston, and Florida.
Savvy’s California: Putting up Christmas Lights. Wearing Shorts
There was something about the physical presence of light which comforted me as a child. I clearly remember my Dad putting up our retro, Strangers Things-style lights outside of the house, wearing his shorts. Eventually light illuminated the house in the desert winter twilight, breath-taking to my child’s eyes.
Lights, one year, was put up around my bedroom window, which I often imagined to be stars trapped in glass, which would eventually break out free on Christmas Day.
Rachel’s Minnesota: OMG Snow
Since living in Minnesota, I now roll my eyes at every Southerner who brags about their ‘heavy’ snowfall in, what, Georgia? C’mon. In MN, I built Trump-tower-sized snowmen, crawled through mega-igloos, and glided across frozen lakes. I also have memories of dressing to go outside: long underwear, snowpants, ski jackets, neck warmers…
For some reason, it always felt like it took HOURS to put on. Does anybody else feel that way?
Savvy’s California: Big Family Gatherings.
Looking back, my family gatherings were overwhelmingly large. I had the privilege of knowing most of my great-grandparents who lived until my teen years. I know all of my grandparents, my uncles, aunts, cousins, and now my second cousins. So having Christmas with the extended family as a child was constant love and attention lavished upon you.
The grandparents coming out of nowhere to give us bear hugs, kisses all of the face, and reminded us for the 10th time, “do you know how much I love you?” As a kid, you wiggle out of it saying “yeah, yeah, to the moon and back”.
The great-grandparents sit on the couch and ask you to come by and sit next to them. You sit with them somewhat in awe. You ask how old they are. Your parents told you that they lived through WWII and that your great-grandfather lost his arm as a teenager sleeping on the train tracks during the Great Depression. They pinch your checks instead of your question and you move on disappointed.
Your cousins run to meet you when you are getting out of the car. They whoop, cheer and lift you off of the ground, spinning around until you are both dizzy and falling to the ground.
Your uncles and aunts give you hugs, tell you how wonderful it is to see you, and you have the pleasure of hearing them tell your parents what wonderful kids you are. There are big mountains of presents just for you.
You back up to your parents for a cuddle and listen to adult conversations, about to fall asleep.
Rachel’s Chicago: Girls Scout Shenanigans
Memories of chi-town wouldn’t be complete without my beloved Girl Scout troop. From trekking the streets of London to gorging on Parisian crepes, our adventures rivalled all other girl scouts. Hands down. And every Christmas, we followed a scene-by-scene story presented in Macy’s annual Christmas windows. Then we would go thaw in The Walnut Room, sipping on hot cocoa and chowing down on food we weren’t cultured enough to appreciate.
Savvy’s London: My First Student Party
London was the place where I felt like a foreigner and stranger. I felt smaller in London, made insignificant by the millions of people crammed in one area.
My family befriended a group of American students and invited them over to decorate our Christmas tree and Christmas cookies. My first student party was full of icing sugar, receiving gifts, and explaining my family history through the selection of ordainments on the Christmas tree.
Our home became open to strangers and foreigners like us. Anyone international, with no family, and lonely would come to us for Christmas Dinner.
Rachel’s England: Mince Pies
The first thing that comes to mind when I think of Christmas in England, it’s food. For all my American friends, the below treats were my replacements for apple pie, Cool Whip, and cornbread.
Mince pie: filled with mincemeat—meaning fruits and spices. You could hold one pie in the palm of your hand.
Ambrosia’s Devon Custard: smooth cream that you heat up and pour over desserts. No, Americans, not like Culver’s custard.
Yorkshire pudding: made with cornflour which, by the way, you should never use as a substitute for cornmeal. Otherwise instead of cornbread, you make yorkshire puddings which, by the way, do not have the consistency of a pudding at all (let alone cornbread).
Savvy’s Norwich: A Christmas Carol
Written by Charles Dickens (one of my favourites), A Christmas Carol was published on the 19th of December in 1843, which happens to be my birthday.
(Yes, I was born 218 years ago. Let’s move on now please.)
So to get myself into the Christmas Spirit, I like to read A Christmas Carol. Dickens knew how to celebrate Christmas.
Rachel’s Boston: Wine Tasting
My family and I bundle up and trundle through the Massachusetts wilderness to the Nashoba Valley Winery. Here, you can see the Asian flush in action as my brother, mom, uncle, and I sample grape wines, micro-brewed beers, hard ciders, and my personal favorite: brandies. (My dad’s there too but, um, he doesn’t suffer from the Asian flush.)
My favorite taste: elephant heart brandy which is basically plum meets chocolate. Need I say more?
Savvy’s Norwich: The Brown Family Christmas Eve Tradition.
No one comes over on Christmas Eve. It is strictly the seven of us, my parents, myself and my four siblings.
Christmas Eve Night is eating take-away night. The takeaway tends to switch between Thai, Indian, and Chinese each year. Pizza gets put out there every year but it never wins.
Then it’s watching/falling asleep to It’s a Wonderful Life. We remind each other of the behind-the-scenes trivia (we know everything by now) and watch out to see who cries at the ending.
Rachel’s Florida: Palate Coffee Brewery’s Christmas Party
The baristas gather to partake in a meal, play games, and, of course, guzzle down some delicious house blend. This year was my first in participating and I’m so glad I did! It reminded me just how blessed I am to have found a community in this coffeeshop.
Scrooge, in the Dicken’s classic A Christmas Carol, has to consider all of his old traditions, past, present, as well as his future. It was a reflection that was at times far from pleasant but the traditions pointed to the condition of himself; lonely and bitter. At the end, he admits his conditions of present and past, but faced with a horrific future, asks for a better future.
“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach. Oh, tell me that I may sponge away the writing on this stone!”*
I can’t help but think that traditions reveal more about us than we like to think. Our traditions reveals our humanity: our longing to be loved, to belong to a place, and our longing of warmth and comfort. Our traditions shows our longing for redemption for the future.
This is what Christmas offers: a new life, a new mindset, and a new heart. It offers up the new traditions in the form of a baby born 2,000 years ago which causes us to think of joy, peace, and hope. Our traditions strive to offer this.
With all of that in mind, I hope that your traditions offer you hope. Merry Christmas, everyone. May you honour the message of Christmas in your hearts.
And a special Merry Christmas to Rachel, my beloved co-blogger. I miss and love you so much.
lots of love,
Here’s to another year of celebrating old traditions AND christening new ones. Savvy, my beloved co-blogger, I miss you dearly and I pray that your family has a lovely Christmas.
Love, Rachel ❤
*Dickens, Charles [2014 (1843)] A Christmas Carol, Penguin Books, The United States