Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Christmas Traditions: Old and New

Since El 3atal and I got married, and particularly since we had kids, we've been going through the process of deciding which Christmas traditions we would keep from each of our families. As I suspect is often the case, my family had more traditions I'd like to keep. Of course, it also had some I'm happy to be getting rid of. Having finished our first Christmas in Jordan, we managed to keep several of the things that were important to us. But Christmas did have a different feel here. So, thinking about that, I'm reflecting on Christmas traditions of my family, both those we've kept and those we've (happily) lost.

Traditions that we will pass on:
  • Poems: I failed miserably at this one this year, but will improve next year. In my family, each person is expected to write a poem to go on the gifts that they give to others. I assure you that absolutely no groundshaking new artists are being discovered. However, it puts each of us in the position of thinking about what we're giving to someone else. It also pushes each of us to expand our vocabulary. How often do you have to come up with a word that rhymes with massage?
  • Unique and special Christmas trees: I see people with these beautiful works of art called Christmas trees. The have only red ornaments or red and gold alone.While I can appreciate the artistic beauty, I know I'll never have one of those trees. 80% of my Christmas tree ornaments have special meaning to me. Every year, I take all of my ornaments out and spread them on the table. They go into categories (plastic ornaments for the bottom of the tree that the kids can reach, annual ornaments, etc.) and from there get placed on the tree. The last ornaments to go on the tree, which are used only to fill remaining space, are the glass balls and bells. How could I ever have a tree without my Martian man? How could I leave off the ornament that we bought while living in Phoenix to remind us of our time there? What would Christmas mean without pictures of the children hanging on the tree?
  • An annual ornament for each child: Every year, El 3atal and I seek out a special ornament for each of our children. When the ornament is selected, we write the child's name and year on it. This year, we got really lovely paper mache ornaments in bright colors for 1JD at Ahliyya's Christmas Festival. Once the children move out on their own, they'll have the starts of a unique and lovely Christmas tree of their own.
  • Reading the Christmas story from the Bible: In my family, we read the Christmas story every year on Christmas Eve. When we got older and it got harder to wait for Christmas morning, we followed the reading with opening one gift (how disappointing was it the year I picked BATTERIES as my Christmas Eve gift...). I found that starting the festivities with the Christmas story helped us focus on why we were there.
  • Angel Tree donations: Another one that we weren't able to do this year. I'm going to see if I can't get something going here next year. Since I was a young girl, my family has always done an angel tree gift. For those who may not be familiar with the program, the Angel Tree started in my hometown (Montgomery, Alabama). Now the Salvation Army has adopted it and spread it across the nation. The program is an awesome one that focuses on ministering to prisoners' families. You go up to the tree and select an "angel". These are families where the caregiver has signed the family up to participate. The children's parents are in prison and unable to afford/provide gifts for Christmas. The angel will have the child's first name, age, clothes size, and wish list on it. I always looked for someone my age with similar interests (and now the kids' ages). Every year I tried to find the money to give a gift and a full set of clothes. For many of these children, this is the only Christmas they will have. Last year, Leila and I picked out our angel together and selected the gifts for her.
  • Big Christmas lunch: Christmas lunch was spent either with my Uncle's family (usually) or with friends invited over. With such a small family (Mom, my brother, and I) it just made more sense to have others with us. El 3atal and I are doing the same thing. Yesterday we had 12 people over for Christmas lunch. Last year was a bit smaller, but much the same.
  • Santa Claus: Unlike many people who felt disillusioned, hurt, and betrayed by Santa not being real, I loved Santa and still do. When I was about 5, I realized that Santa's handwriting and my Mom's handwriting was the same. However, I didn't want to spoil things for my older brother, so I said nothing. He believed until he was about 10. And, honestly, part of me still believes. Oh, not that there's a guy in a red suit who flies about coming down chimneys, but that the ideal of Santa is still there. That everyone of us can make a difference in the life of one child by ensuring that everyone has a gift under the tree. I still believe that the love and selflessness of Santa can be in all of us, and I want my children the have that as well. As with the Easter Bunny, there are things that are a common part of the American experience that I want my children to have. Now, we won't ever have a Santa figure on the roof or reindeer on the lawn, but we will sing Santa songs right alongside the most beautiful carols in the world (Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Silent Night, What Child is This?, the Little Drummer Boy).

Traditions we're losing (happily and not so):

  • Stockings: As a child, we had a huge stuffed stocking. We opened our stocking, then had breakfast, then opened the presents under the tree. This year as I was thinking about how overwhelming this was and how I didn't really get stocking stuffer, I realized that this isn't a tradition I want to focus on. Maybe as the kids get older I'll revive it, but somehow I don't think so. This year's stocking-less Christmas was just right.
  • Excessive gift-giving: Growing up, my family overdid in a BIG BIG way. On Christmas morning, the bottom 1/3 of the tree would be covered with gifts. They were typically stacked so high that it was hard to enter the room. The first gifts distributed were the ones closest to the outside. My Mom has tendencies to over-do even when there isn't a holiday. And she loves Christmas. So these combine into just too much. Even when we've set limits, she finds it hard to hold to them. But, for our family's sanity, we won't be doing the excessive Christmases. This year, El 3atal and I got one gift for each of the kids. Now Mimi (my Mom) had sent 2 or 3 for each and Teta brought some, and Auntie Jim brought some, and Auntie Linda... well, you get the picture. But even so, all of the gifts were unwrapped within about an hour. So, for us less is certainly more.
  • Christmas breakfast: When I was a child, Christmas breakfast started with a grapefruit cut in half with a cherry in the center. Now, I don't know if this was a tradition before my Mom's cousin owned a citrus farm and sent a case of oranges and grapefruits every year or not. However, for us, breakfast every day tends more towards chocolate chip pancakes, so I don't think we'll be resurrecting the traditional family breakfast.

And there are some traditions that I want to build as the children get older, like making ornaments (we did this when I was a child, oh and these ornaments are still on my tree). I hear great ideas from other families (giving food to street children) that I think maybe we'll try and see if we can't make work for us, in our own way. And next year, I'm making a promise to myself that I'm getting that Fisher Price Little People Nativity Set. I've been meaning to for the last 3 years, since the Little People invaded my house. Now, I'm really going to do it... I hope.

Happy Traditions! (and Merry Christmas!)

2 Comments:

At 10:11 AM , Anonymous kinzi said...

Great Post! I hope I didn't offend you with my no Santa stand...yikes, imagine offending a sister in Christ over Santa. So sorry!

Thanks for the peek into your Christmas traditions...you inspired me to write yet another one on the subject (promise, I won't touch Santa!). I'm so glad your first Jordanian Christmas was a blessed one.

 
At 12:59 AM , Blogger MommaBean said...

Kinzi, the more you know me, the more you will find it's nearly impossible to offend me :). I've heard alot of people express your view of the Santa situation and I'm glad. I had never even considered it from that perspective and I hope it will make me more sensitive in explaining it to my kids.

I'm thrilled that I inspired you. I love seeing and hearing about others' Christmas traditions. I get such great ideas that way :).

 

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