Our Unintentional Christmas Traditions

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It was their first Christmas together, and his new bride was making a ham. She asked him to cut off about three inches on the end. 

“Why do you cut off the end?” he asked. 

“That’s how you cook a ham,” was her replied. “My mother taught me.”

When her family came over for the Christmas meal, he thought to ask his mother-in-law. “Why do you cut off the end of the ham before you cook it?”

She smiled. “That’s how you cook a ham. I’ve been doing it that way for more than twenty-five years, and my mom did it the same way. She taught me when I was a little girl.”

Once the grandparents had arrived, and they were all seated at the table, he asked the grandmother, “Why do you cut off the end of the ham before cooking it?”

Without a thought, the woman answered, “So it will fit into my pan.”
 

Traditions are often passed from one generation to the next, and the origin can be lost. In the movie Fiddler on the Roof , the lead character is Tevye, a poor milkman. At the beginning of the movie, he is explaining how things work in their small village, and all the traditions they observe.  

“How did this tradition get started? I’ll tell you….I don’t know. But it’s tradition!”

As kids, my sister and I would always find oranges and Brazil nuts in our stockings. I have no idea why those two items, but it’s one of my strongest recollections. Sometimes, even 50 years later, when I smell an orange, those childhood memories rush back in.

When my children were young, we would set aside and evening for putting up the tree. We would have a bowl of soft peppermints, hot chocolate and listen to Christmas music as we decorated.

Author’s Note: At the time, if I remember, you could only get these peppermints at Christmas time; now they are available at other holidays. But to this day, I only buy them after Thanksgiving to help remind me of those wonderful memories.

My partner and I have been together for nearly 16 years, and we have two Christmas traditions that might be seen as odd, but are very dear to us. And they began in the most unusual and unintentional way.

We had only been dating for a few months. Just before Thanksgiving, his Dad had a heart attack, and it went downhill from there. For nearly four weeks, my partner would drive back and forth from Dallas where we both had apartments to Houston where his folks lived. Just before Christmas, his Dad died. I flew down to Houston to be with him; it was the first time I’d ever met his family. (In fact, because they didn’t have a Pastor, I agreed to do the funeral.)

On Christmas Day, I thought he needed a break from taking care of his family, so I took him to a movie. The day after Christmas, we were back in Dallas and exchanged our gifts.

Now, every year, we make it a point to go to a movie on Christmas afternoon. And whether we are home or visiting family, at least one gift is held back to be opened a day or two after December 25th. We think it extends the holiday spirit, and it’s a tribute to his Dad that I never got to meet.

Honestly, there have been times when we weren’t able to carry out our usual routine. Several years ago we made the mistake of picking a movie that opened on Christmas day. It was bitter cold day, and when we got to the theater, much to our surprise, at least half of the city had adopted our tradition. We went home and watch a movie on TV.

We all have our own traditions; they may be meaningful, quirky or spiritual. Some put their tree up around Thanksgiving, while others do it on Christmas Eve. And there's always the distinction of a live versus artificial tree. Our tradition could be certain foods, midnight church services, particular ornaments on the tree, spending time with family, etc. 

To me, traditions add heart and soul to our holiday celebrations. They safeguard our memories, and bring them out to enhance our enjoyment of the festivities. Like ours, they can be unintentional, but I don’t think they should be without some personal attachment.

Embrace your traditions.
Or start some new ones.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays

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