Holiday Traditions Don’t Have to Make Sense

I spent Thanksgiving Day alone. I had breakfast with a friend but didn’t partake of any of the traditional food frenzies involving extended family, football, and dozens of pumpkin pies. My kids were in West Virginia with my ex-husband’s family and I had Cheerios for dinner.

Now, before you start to pity me – or scold me for not speaking up about my plight sooner – let me offer some reassurance. I was fine. Thanksgiving really isn’t “my” holiday. Growing up, my parents and I tended to leap over Thanksgiving en route to Christmas. It just seems silly to cook a 20-pound hunk of meat for three people, no matter how tasty the leftovers are.

Our Thanksgiving tradition was to start decorating the house for Christmas. It was a big undertaking. My mother takes Christmas seriously. At last count, I believe she has upwards of thirty large plastic storage bins full of seasonal decorations, including eighty-five nativity scenes and five hundred or so ornaments that she rotates each year depending on the theme and color schemes of her four Christmas trees. It would take us all weekend just to haul everything out, sort it, and put the tree up.

Who has time for green bean casserole when you’ve got eighty-five baby Jesus figurines to organize and display?

A family’s traditions rarely make complete sense to outsiders. They grow out of the rhythms of shared experience. I asked my Facebook community about their families’ traditions and the results were glorious. Tales of lottery tickets in stockings, ground hogs bearing gifts, and Swedish meatballs flowed in. One friend confessed that “The Shining” has somehow become a holiday movie classic in her house. Some of their ideas seemed fabulous, but most wouldn’t make sense for me to adopt – these traditions grew from their families’ stories, not mine.

My mom’s family has a thing we do on the first of each month. You try to be the first one to utter a specific phrase to other family members. “A pinch and a punch for the first of the month, and no returns for the day – white rabbit!” No, I don’t know why we do that. But we always have. My mom and her sisters call each other early in the morning or sneak a text in at 12:01am. My grandfather and I debate the legitimacy of email punchlines. My uncle once called the house pretending to be an animal control officer investigating a complaint that the occupants were “pinching and punching white rabbits.” It doesn’t make any sense, but that’s not the point. It’s our tradition and we love it.

I have always enjoyed Christmas traditions, but I have become even more intentional about building them since I got divorced. I want my children to remember fondly the special ways that we celebrated the season, from the matching Christmas pajamas (this year it’s llamas) to the fact that they open their stockings at my house after lunch because they wake up at their dad’s house on Christmas morning.

Thus I spent Thanksgiving this year laying the groundwork for Christmas. I wrestled the tree down from the attic and enjoyed the freedom to curse at the malfunctioning lights at top volume in the solitude of the empty house. I hung the stockings from the mantle, washed the reindeer plates and snowflake mugs, and unfolded the special Christmas coloring tablecloth. When the kids got home, they each decorated their little trees, donned their jammies, and read Christmas books aloud on the couch. We always start with “When Cows Come Home for Christmas.” It’s tradition!

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