Something Old, Something New

Posted in: Family Matters

My family is big on tradition.  Tradition for tradition’s sake.  Doing what we always do because we always do it.  And loving every minute of it.

Christmas is no exception.  In fact, it defines the rule.  The ferocity with which the Mc Family has clung to our Christmas day routine — a routine that makes December 25th feel like it’s about 76 hours long — proves our commitment to the art.

For as long as I can remember, Christmas day has gone something like (okay, exactly like) this:   we wake up early — always earlier than we say we will — and convene in the kitchen, where Mom has already made a pot of coffee.  There is a platter of bagels and cream cheese set out on the counter, along with champagne and OJ.  We start with the coffee.  Before the last mug is poured, my niece is pulling on Sister’s arm, dragging her towards the den.  The den is where the action is.

Mugs in hand, we make our way into the den, where Santa’s deliveries are on display.   Now that we’re adults, Sister and I stand with Mom and Dad, watching instead of participating in the LOOK-WHAT-SANTA-BROUGHT-ME! moment.  Husband hangs back, observing not only my niece’s delight, but her mom’s and mine as well.  We Mcs love us some Christmas morning.

After we’ve examined everything Santa has brought, we return to the kitchen for bagels and mimosas, and of course, more coffee. Then it’s time for the stockings.  Santa used to do all of these, but now he only fills my niece’s.  The grown-ups swap names at Thanksgiving, and it’s all hush-hush and top secret until Christmas morning.

After we’ve gone through out stockings, we start on the presents under the tree.  There are always too many, more than we said we’d buy.  We need none of it.  And yet, every Christmas morning, there it is, that ridiculous pile of gifts.

At this point, the time pressure sets in.  See, we’re on a schedule, a very tight schedule.  We have places to be and people to see.  We have to be showered and dressed and loaded into two gift-packed cars by 11:00 am sharp, because we’re expected at my grandmother’s house by 1pm.  We can’t be late, because we only have a few hours to spend there, with Mom’s family, before it’s time to get back into the car and drive over to my aunt’s house, where we’ll spend a few more hours with Dad’s family before getting into the car once again and driving the two hours home.  By the time it’s all over, we will have hugged and kissed and visited with 50+ relatives and consumed no less than 4000 calories each.  It’s taxing and tiresome and absolutely awesome.  It’s what makes Christmas feel like Christmas.

Except this year.  This year, I’m too pregnant to fly.  So this year, we didn’t do things the way we always do them.  We did them differently.

And yet.

Early morning wake up call?  Check.  Family assembly in the kitchen?  Check.  Bagels, cream cheese, coffee and mimosas?  Check, check, check and check.  We did the Santa display, the stockings, and the boatload of presents under the tree.

But there was no long drive, no visit with extended family, no sitting at folding tables in my grandmother’s living room, eating Hanky Pankys and Kraft mac and cheese.  Instead, we drove 5 miles to an apartment, where we sat at a picnic table, eating gourmet brunch food and visiting with friends who feel like family.  It felt different.  But it felt like Christmas.

Next year, we’ll reconvene in my parents’ kitchen, this time with the newest addition to our family.  We’ll return to our scripted routine, and for the first time in a long time, we’ll enjoy every moment of it — even the taxing and tiresome bits.  We’ll relish its familiarity.  Delight in the comfort of custom.

But somewhere beneath the surface, a seed will have been planted.  A seed of new traditions, new routines.  New ways to spend a day that isn’t really about what we do, but who we do it with.  And why.  A day that’s special because of what — and who — we’re celebrating, not how we celebrate it.

Don’t get me wrong — I doubt we’ll be veering from the Christmas Routine again any time soon.  In fact, I suspect that Lil’ Mil’s arrival into the family will reinvigorate our commitment to it.  I’ll want my child to have what I had.  To enjoy as I did the task and responsibility of tradition-keeping.    But the time will come for Husband and I to make our own traditions.  For us to find our own way to mark the days we want to remember.  The days we want to set apart.

It’s a daunting task.  To start over, from scratch, with nothing but the meaning of the day and our desire to memorialize it.  No this-is-how-we’ve-always-done-it’s or this-is-just-what-we-do’s to fall back on.  But really, that’s what makes a family, isn’t it?  Traditions that belong to your nuclear unit only.  Routines that you’ve crafted — or at least refashioned — to fit your branch of the tree.

Our branch.

Beneath all my ramblings about tradition-making and tradition-keeping and trading old for new is a single, penetrating thought:  the moment this baby arrives, Husband and I will no longer be just the youngest members of our respective clans.  We’ll no longer be just a couple.

We’ll be a family.

Just the three of us.

That’s the thing about traditions.  Doing things the way you’ve always done them doesn’t keep things the way they’ve always been.  365 days from now, when the seven of us are gathered around the center island in my parents’ kitchen, holding our coffee mugs and wiping sleep from our eyes, things will be different.  We will be different.

And that, I think, is why traditions matter.  More than marking our days, they mark us.  They tether us, reminding us that we belong together, even as we change and grow and grow up.

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