The holidays are steeped in traditions. Some, like gift giving, are as old as the holidays they have become a part of. We can all thank the three “wise” men for starting the tradition of giving impractical gifts to one another. (Did it occur to any of them to take some of that gold and rent the kid and his folks a room?) Other traditions, like dropping the ball in Times Square, are hardly older than Great Aunt Tillie’s fruitcake, perhaps not even as old. The first ball drop was in 1907. The oldest fruitcake, baked by a Fidelia Bates (possible relation through my paternal grandmother?), supposedly has been in existence since 1878. Yummy. The best traditions, however, are those only as old as the families who created them.
My family has had a number of odd holiday traditions over the years. Some, like opening stockings in my parents’ bed, were bred out of necessity. My parents needed time and caffeine to gain consciousness before the real chaos of Christmas began. I suppose I was too little to remember when this tradition began, though I’d guess it was around 4:30 am sometime in the early 80’s. I clearly remember, though, the years when perhaps it should have ended, years when my brother and I were well past believing it was Santa’s idea to drag out this part of the morning long enough to get through the first sacred cup of coffee. We were both in college and much too large to fit comfortably on the bed, but by then the tradition had been long established and no one wanted to be the one to suggest it had grown slightly ridiculous. Besides, by that point we were old enough (and perhaps hung-over enough) to need the slow start as much as our parents. Sadly this tradition came to an end when my brother moved out, but as the expression goes, when one door closes, another opens.
We may have grown older and bigger, but we certainly didn’t gain much in the way of maturity and sophistication–at least not when it came to Christmas morning. In place of the camaraderie we built squeezing four full-grown adults onto a queen-sized mattress, we adopted the new tradition of hideous, holiday-themed headwear. It started with a single Santa hat that got passed from bedhead to bedhead to enhance the humor of our Christmas morning photos. Then someone made the grand discovery of the light-up reindeer antler headband, because nothing says Christmas like bleary-eyed adults in tacky blinking lights. Not wanting her to miss out on the holiday fun, I even attempted to include the cat in this tradition by purchasing her a feline-sized Santa hat from the local pet store. It was a good thing I had my tetanus shot that year, but the scars eventually healed. This year, though, had to be the epitome of this particular tradition. My brother, who hadn’t partaken since he married into a more normal family, amused us all by donning an elf hat with pointy ears this Christmas Eve. It looked particularly ridiculous since it didn’t cover his own ears, leaving us discussing four-eared elves and big heads (of which Dad wins the prize–sorry!). To top it off, our Christmas morning celebration included Gramma this year, which gave us the perfect excuse to update our collection of Christmas crowns. Gram, who happily said she was up for anything, was a great sport and wore her cheap polyester Santa hat like a pro, bringing a third generation into our crazy tradition.
Our family is sure to grow and change, though perhaps not as quickly as my parents would like. With such change will surely come new traditions and perhaps the resurrection of a few old ones–unwrapped presents from Santa was ingenious and coffee before chaos a must. Though religious traditions are probably more sacred (I don’t think it’d be right to rock out the blinking nativity hat) and regional ones longer lasting (the ball drop is bound to be around long after the world has buried the last fruit cake), I’ll take family traditions over all of them any day. Merry Christmas and a Happy, Silly New Year!