Friday, December 28, 2018

tradition and loss

Tradition is a strange creature.  Without fail until the last couple year's, my family has been working the same variation of scenarios every Christmas season since I was an infant.  Even though I wouldn't consider myself a Christian, Christmas has always been more of a secular family-laden holiday to me--similar to Thanksgiving or the 4th of July.    Actual Christmas Day has typically involved some sort of big meal at home, either just the four of us or with a handful of guests (my aunt, my mom's best friend) In recent year's my sister has typically spent the day with her in-laws, but whoever was left usually came over over for roast or turkey or sometimes both.

While Christmas day was usually low-key and mostly a food coma, Christmas Eve was always the busy night.  When I was a kid, it meant parties at either one of my grandmother's houses.  Later, shuttling back and forth between different sides of the family, beginning at 3pm and ending usually after midnight.  If the night began at my Aunt Nancy's with food and an ungodly amount of presents, it usually ended at either my Aunt Judy's on my dad's side (later my cousins hosted in too much wine and a poker game).   By this time, my sister and I would be sleepy and impatient for Santa.   We'd then go home to sleep and get up early, or at some point, switched to opening our gifts and the presents from "Santa" before we went to bed (to be able to sleep in).

At various points the outings shifted order.  Eventually the Bowen's moved the gathering to another night, either before or after the holiday. Occasionally my sister would have to work and couldn't come.   A few year's ago, even when everyone was still alive, there was a rift over ridiculousness on my Mom's side that meant we spent a few Christmas Eve's and Christmas Dinners at her friend's house and skipped the larger gathering entirely. Because we were usually out and about, we'd head to the other end of town and open family gifts with my sister at their place instead of my parent's. These were modifications, but still felt similar in pattern.

When my mother died, it was right before the holidays, and last year felt like we didn't quite know what we were doing. We had yet to get any sort of bearings My sister had me and my dad over, but she was sick and not really feeling up for company.   My Dad cooked me and himself a Christmas dinner, but otherwise we spent the holiday alone.  (The Bowen side gathering was scheduled later in January.) It was fine, not horrible.  But at the same time, everything felt horribly wrong.

But we go on and maybe our traditions are changing and that's okay.  This year, instead of anyone cooking, we went out for Chinese on Christmas Eve and then over for dessert and presents and movie watching at my sister's.  On our drive home from their place later, I was quietly crying in the backseat, of course, for all those past Christmases--the weird magicalness of those cold clear nights when I was a kid.  A big ball of my own nostalgia and memories of my mother and all the loss I usually push out to the edges of my mind. We went home and watched episodes of Twilight Zone and Hitchcock Presents and it was still sad, but less horrible than the year before. My Dad made pot roast for all of us on Christmas Day, and we hunted through old pics looking for embarassing holiday matching outfits to re-post on instagram.   It was still sad, but a little less so.

Meanwhile,   I've been focusing on the traditions I can control--my own--which include tree (or this year tree-less) decorating and cheesey Hallmark-ish movie watching.  Kicking off vacation with baking cookies and holiday horror movies. My usual NYE traditions of plentiful snacks and movie watching (and faux New Year's plans another night with J b/c he usually has to work..)

It's like ripping off a limb sometimes to lose traditions, especially when the people central to them are gone, but maybe you move onto something better, or at least good enough.

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