Friday, December 10, 2010
'Tis the Season
Traditions. The holidays wouldn’t be “The Holidays” without them. Rituals that range from digging out boxes of carefully preserved ornaments to lighting candles in a certain in order. From using handed-down recipes to taking daylong excursions to cut down the perfect tree—complete with snowflakes and hot chocolate.
I’m big on traditions—by which I mean that I love doing things, going places, and sharing experiences with the same people—again and again. I enjoy what I call “experiential” gifts far more than materials ones. And I’m pretty sure I’ve always been this way. My parents certainly set the stage. After 60 years of marriage, they still celebrate Christmas the same way they always have—by staying home all day, opening gifts at a leisurely pace, and eating a rib roast dinner. The only difference is that all of their kids are not there with them.
Like them, I’m resistant to altering the traditions I love. For instance, Jim is itching to spend Christmas snowbound in a remote cabin—while I can’t imagine not being with my family. That said, I’m discovering that it can be fun to switch things up a little. This year’s Thanksgiving dinner was hosted by my sister Deborah and her husband Mark in Elkton, Maryland. Jim and I arrived earlier than expected and he suggested stopping at one of Elkton’s clams to fame: The Howard House. It’s known as a crab place but we go for the legendary Bloody Mary’s. And because we’d decided to book a hotel room for the night to avoid the long and exhausting round-trip drive (another break from tradition), I said yes. Alcohol on Thanksgiving—what a treat!
I called our hosts to invite them to join us (they live within walking distance), and wasn’t surprised when Mark declined. But I was shocked when, 10 minutes later, my sister walked into the bar. Hot on her heels came my son Jake, who drove down on his own instead of with me (another first.) We shared some laughs and some stories and—best of all—the excitement of doing something new and different. A feeling that stayed with me all day. When we got back to the house, my brother and sister-in-law were disappointed to have arrived a little too late to join the party. By the time we said goodbye, we all agreed that a new family tradition had been established.
This week my friend Marla and I engaged in our annual holiday "experience." Like total tourists, we meet at dusk at the tree in Rockefeller Center. Take a few pictures. Then wander along Fifth Avenue, check out the displays, and end up grabbing a healthy bite to eat. Lately we’ve chosen days so bitter cold that we're forced to slip into Saks, Bendel’s or Bergdorf’s to warm up. This year we decided to go see the windows at Barneys and made a pit stop at the Plaza. Next thing we knew, we were sipping festive red drinks in the balcony bar—a fun new twist on the "let's stop in here to get toasty" tradition!
Traditions aren’t just about nostalgia or being old-fashioned. They ground us in a time and place. They create a sense of order and belonging. Like a compass, they help point us in a familiar direction and steer us toward a friendly destination. And they sure come in handy when our lives seem to be spinning out of control. Maybe that’s what the “tidings of comfort and joy” business is all about?