Getting in just under the wire - the deadline's in 30 minutes - and after many, many takes, I present to you my contribution to Neil Kramer's Blogger Christmahanukwanzaakah Online Holiday Concert over at citizenofthemonth.com. Frank Loesser's "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?" for your listening pleasure.
I've mentioned before that I have no family Christmas traditions to fall back on this time of year, no context for the lies stories we tell about Santa, no cherished childhood memories to re-enact with Imp. This makes it both easier, I think, and more difficult, now that I am celebrating Christmas every year.
It's easier because there's no tension or juggling schedules between my family and HWSNBN's about where we spend Christmas day. It's always with HWSNBN's side, because on my side it's just another Wednesday. Having no traditions of my own means I don't have a preconceived idea of what Christmas is supposed to be, so I'm happy to go along with whatever's in the offing. And it's easier because we get to decide what will become a part of our family-of-three's holiday traditions as we go.
But it's harder too. Having no traditions means I'm not aware of nuance in discussions of plans for the season. I'm not aware of what's come before, so I miss things that are expected of me because I'm in Margaret Meade mode, mostly observing and trying not to make a mess of things. We don't bother going to church on Christmas Eve anymore now that our niece and nephews are too old to be in the Christmas pageant, but I never could remember when I was supposed to sit or stand or talk back during the service. I'm always a little bit cautious, trying to make sure that in some flippant joke I don't step on anyone's feelings about the day. I never comment on some of the crazy intensity people bring to the season because I never know what feelings I could be hurting.
It was definitely simpler before Imp came along. Command performances Christmas Eve, Christmas morning, and Christmas dinner, and that was it. We rarely had a tree, because why go to all the trouble when it was just the two of us and we weren't getting each other presents anyway? (Our Christmas presents to each other pre-Imp were things like, "Hey, let's go to Paris!")
But with Imp, I want him to have the happy childhood memories of Christmas that my friends have.
I've been freestyling it the last few years, knowing that he was too young to remember much about Christmas anyway. I got off easy. This year, he's very much tuned in to the Santa myth, and he really wants to decorate the house, and get a tree, and sing songs and eat candy canes. So here I am, flailing a bit, trying things out haphazardly and seeing what fits.
I realized yesterday that there is a pattern emerging. I never celebrated Christmas growing up, but of course I was aware of it. It's impossible to avoid Christmas entirely in North America. I sang in the choir in my elementary school so I know all the carols. I watched all the movies. I tried eggnog. (Which: yuck. How do you people drink that stuff?) I saw my friends' families' decorated homes and celebrations. I don't hate Christmas, I just have no family context for it.
The things I've always loved about Christmas: the pretty lights in the middle of the darkest time of year, the time spent with family and friends, the food, and the music. And I've realized that all the things I've been incorporating into our make-it-up-as-we-go-along family traditions fit into those four categories.
As a family, we walk the neighbourhood enjoying the lights in people's windows and on the main shopping streets. I make family calendars with photos of our large extended family, and give one to each household as a gift every year. We always enjoy the big extended family Christmas dinner, especially now that there are so many cousins Imp's age for him to run around with.
This year I added a couple of things: building a gingerbread village and hosting all the cousins Imp's age for gingerbread house decorating*; and I'm learning Christmas carols on the ukulele, the better to entertain the kids as the rest of the adults put the finishing touches on the 25-30 person Christmas dinner. Who doesn't love a singalong with little kids? They haven't been taught not to enjoy singing badly yet!
I think maybe I'm getting the hang of this. Lights, family, food, and music: there are worse things to build traditions around.
*which went really well, and which I hope will become an annual event.
It's been a good day. In no particular order, here's why:
1) We go to the same kids' Christmas party every year, and the organizers have the same guy playing Santa every year, so Imp thinks it's THE Santa. All of his photos with Santa since he was six months old are with the same dude.
2) After the party, Imp declared it the "Best day EVER!!" and then we were given last minute tickets to tonight's Canucks game, and HWSNBN took Imp and the Canucks won. Imp wore his bow tie.
3) I spent two hours this evening by myself with only my guitar for company. Bliss.
4) HWSNBN didn't have to work this weekend and we got to spend the entire two days together as a family and that hasn't happened in forever.
5) There's a circle of six giant trees on English Bay that are covered in over ten thousand Christmas lights every December, making it look like one enormous tree. We can see it from Imp's bedroom window. Tonight at bedtime he told us to close our eyes. Then he carefully led each of us by the hand to his room and stood us in front of his window. "Open your eyes!" he said. He wanted us all to stand there and just look at how pretty it was together. Best minute of my day. (And that's on a day when I got to sleep in as HWSNBN made breakfast, so that's saying something.)
You too can fight the battle against embitterment at Grace in Small Things.