Christmas Eve and Tradition

On this Christmas Eve morning, I’m thinking about other Christmas Eves. Today I’m feeling content. Some cooking projects are begun, others in the planning stages, but none are under any sort of pressure. The results of the cooking don’t have any more importance than the project of cooking them, which is a nice way to approach the necessary fact of needing to eat and wanting the food to feel celebratory. I remember the year that I ran myself ragged creating holiday for everyone else and obliterating it for myself. I remember the years when I carefully coordinated all the gift giving between family members because I felt like it was my job to make sure no one was sad on Christmas. Then there was the year where the whole holiday season felt fraught because of frictions between family members. Last year we folded my daughter’s fiance into our celebrations. This year will be the first one where I don’t have all my children gathered together on Christmas Eve, because my daughter has her own family traditions to build. So many years, so many different emotional states when approaching the holiday.

Every holiday season I spend some time thinking about traditions, how they form, their purpose, how they frame the holiday, how they can trap us, how they can thrive or fade away. Though my kids are all adults, we still do the morning entrance into the room with Christmas morning surprises, though youngest-first got shifted to shortest-first a few years back. That grand entrance was designed specifically to help contain over excited children and give parents a chance to see faces when they saw the surprises. Our core Christmas Eve focus of lighting candles on our “poor man’s Christmas tree” was also born of me trying to figure out how to get small children to focus. Turn out the lights, give them a spinning candle-lit wooden nativity to watch, read them Christmas stories, ask them to write down a gift of service they plan to extend in the next year, then reward them with cookies. We continue because the shape of the tradition works for adults as well, the right blend of contemplation and snack food.

Even this year our traditions are bending to meet needs. Food is heavily featured this year because making food and sharing it is a means of connection for several family members. Pandemic increased that connection need, so: more cooking. This evening when we blow out the candles, we’ll have to decide who gets to blow out the extra one. We’ve had exactly the right number of candles for years, one per person. (Again, a tradition developed and codified during the years when we had to restrain children from blowing out candles too early or too many.) Now we’ll seek a meaningful way to extinguish a candle in honor of the person who has launched into her own tradition-building adventure. The nice thing is that whatever we decide for this year, we can decide differently for next year. Traditions connect us with heritage and who we used to be, it is important that they flex and shift to accommodate who we are now.

And with that, I need to go cook some more foods.