Here’s a random fact for you – one side of my family is in fact the Griswold side. In tribute to that, and the usual Christmas chaos at the family home, Christmas Vacation has sort of been adopted as my family’s unofficial Christmas movie. I won’t get in to how many parts of that movie I’ve experienced in real life over the holidays…suffice it to say, it makes me feel better to watch and know we’re really just normal. (Yeah, let’s go with that…)
I have a rather large, slightly non-traditional southern family. It’s primarily non-traditional only in that my father’s parents divorced and each remarried, leaving three sets of grandparents to visit. What that really means is that there were a lot of feelings to navigate around in terms of where we went and when. When I was a child this set up was awesome – three grandmas fawning over us grandkids, plenty of gifts, and more yummy food than you could possibly get to in a single day. As I got older and realized what a source of stress this was for parents, I have to say it dampened the fun a bit. When my mom passed away and it suddenly fell to me to arrange everything, well let’s just say a little grinchy resentment was born. Don’t get me wrong, I adore all of my grandparents, but I generally prefer to limit myself to one set a day.
Christmas wasn’t all bad when I was growing up though. My mom was super into the season and she loved decorating. There were angels, Santas, nativities, lights, trees, etc, etc. all over the place from the day after Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day. My dad’s property is mostly wooded, so the four of us usually went out in search of our Christmas tree and holly on foot. When we found the right tree, my dad or brother would go back for the quad to haul it back to the house while we carried as much holly and mistletoe as our arms would allow. We would spray paint pine cones and sweet gum pods to place around the house with all the greenery. It was all very beautiful (smile).
I was generally not allowed to help with the tree decorating (and rightfully so after an unfortunate occurrence), but they would let me add a few ornaments here and there (smile). I did get the fun (?) job of helping my dad with the outside lights, however, which generally went the way of the Christmas Vacation movie. My mom and I would bake cookies and candy while my dad and brother went hunting. At some point my paternal grandma and her husband would take us to see Christmas lights – either at the zoo or Christmas City (yep, that was a real place). I loved it! I guess you could say the season itself was actually a lot of fun (smile).
My favorite part of the Christmas Eve/Day celebrations was being allowed (encouraged even!) to stay up for the late Christmas program at church. My religious beliefs are complicated, but there are few things as peaceful and soothing as candles and carols, especially late at night. There’s a magic there that soothes all the stress and hurt feelings and allows everyone to remember what the celebration is all about.
Through the years, my dad, brother, and I formed our own, much simpler traditions. We’d usually set up a small tree once my brother and I got home; we gave each other the most random, silly gift we could find for one another; and we always went to a movie together. It was quiet, but it fit us. The grandparents were still in the picture, but the dynamics changed quite a bit (I’ll leave it at that). I suppose this era was where I picked up my minimalist ways (smile).
Now that my dad has remarried there’s a whole other dimension to this set up, which generally leaves me showing up at the last possible moment to avoid most of the “fun.” Not this year though…no this year I’ll get the full experience for the first time in a very long time. And I’m not too sure how I feel about that. A whole new set of Christmas traditions has been established and now I have to learn them. I’m not resentful about this, but it does feel awkward somehow. I’m part of this extended family that I don’t really know thanks to living so far away and that makes it difficult to feel like a part of the celebration (if that even makes sense). I suppose you could say that I’ve no one to blame but myself on that one; and you’d be right. But it’s complicated. That’s generally the word I associate most with Christmas – complicated. I’m just grateful my brother will be there with me (smile) and that he totally understands.
I worry that this post has turned into something much more than I really intended, but I’m going to post it anyway. I don’t hate Christmas – in fact there are parts of the season that I love and look forward to all year (hello lights! hello eggnog!)! I’m hopeful that with time, new will become normal and perhaps a few additional kids will come into the mix (because let’s face it, they make things so much fun!). We shall see!
*Please excuse some of the photo quality – the scanner is having issues. I’ll post some more throwbacks if I can get it going again properly.
Have your family traditions changed over the years? What was/is your favorite??