Thursday, June 21, 2007


Usually when a concept seems totally logical and full of common sense to me, I discover that I am thinking opposite of everyone else. I don't try to be different, or difficult. It just happens automatically.

Take traditions. I love creating traditions and remembering traditions. The thing I don't like about them is that they're so...well, you know, traditional! I hate being caught up in a great idea that is now past it's prime. I like to take a good tradition and tweak it to match the ever changing participants and lifestyles.

On Christmas Eve in the olden days my family and all my cousins and aunts and uncles went to grama's house. We had a traditional Swedish meal, including lutefisk which the older people loved to coax us kids to try. My uncle and aunt produced a program about Christmases around the world, complete with costumes and scenery, and the 23 grand kids learned songs and poems and performed with relish. It was fabulous and memorable.

And then suddenly we all grew up. Some married and produced little actresses and singers, but others produced kids that liked sports, not performances. There were new in-laws that turned on the TV during the festivities. This created embarrassed cousins who didn't know how to explain that little Jimmy was watching the game, and wasn't going to be a Wiseman this year.

The party had grown from the comfortable 1st generation to the 2nd generation which was double in size. Our little kids felt shy with their unknown second cousins. It was an ordeal, not an anticipated event. We argued about it, but I insisted that we had to go. One year we got home very late, everybody was tired and cross, and I realized it was time for the tradition to become a memory.

Plus, we had ideas for Christmas Eve. We were anxious to create our own holiday traditions to weld our little family. Bedtime needed to be observed so Christmas Day would start off with well-rested, cooperative kids, and to give us time to do our Santa magic. We had long discussions about it to bolster my courage to take a stand. I decided to prepare my mother ahead of time, so I told her in February.

Breaking the news to my mom was awful. She cried! My grama said, "I'd hoped I wouldn't live long enough to have the kids stop coming on Christmas Eve." I felt like I was stabbing my family in the back! I wondered why they couldn't understand and support our desire to follow their example in creating strong family ties.

The caught in the middle feeling haunted us. Dee and I decided many years ago that we didn't want to create that dilemma for our kids. We never want couples to argue with each other because of pressure we put on them. We often celebrate events on a different day, so there won't be a problem choosing between the families. This means that we have sometimes spent Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, Mother's Day, and other traditional family days on our own. It has given us a chance to create some new traditions (eating out on Thanksgiving, sleeping in on Christmas morning...) We want our family to know they are always welcome, but never obligated. They don't have to give us any explanations or excuses, or worry that we'll be hurt or lonely, or upset. At this point our role is to support their families in the goals they set for themselves. We had our chance to create traditions, and now it's their opportunity.

Just because something is tradition doesn't make it right all the time. Tradition is sometimes an explanation for acting without thinking. I grew up with lovely Sunday Dinners. That one got the shaft at our house. We used to go to church in the morning, and arrive home with seven tired hungry kids. I'd start mashing potatoes and making gravy while the whole gang whined and argued, waiting for food. One Sunday while I changed clothes, Dee whipped up some French Toast. It was quick and easy and a total hit. We quickly spiraled down from roast beef to grilled cheese, served on napkins instead of plates. Sundays became pleasant. We created a tradition that helped us.
My goal has been to have a tradition of making memories. I don't like to do things the same way every time, and I don't think it's logical to do everything every time, either. I don't like having things set in stone. Going out to dinner for a birthday might work well in March. If we can't afford it for the birthday in June, we'll go to the park. At Christmas time I make a list of "traditional"activities and then choose from them. Maybe this year we'll do gingerbread houses and skip sugar cookies. It's too overwhelming for me to try to cram every fun thing we've ever done into one season. It takes the joy out of it.

"Traditions are the guideposts driven deep in our subconscious minds. The most powerful ones are those we can't even describe and aren't even aware of." My extended family Christmas Eve party has become a treasured memory, but the tradition is a family who loves each other. That's the thing I want to pass on.

Illustrations by Stephen Cartwright


MissKris said...

I come from such a small family that holidays were spent, just the 6 of us. All our family was back in New England, where my parents' grew up. When I come here and read of the wonderful ways in which you create so much fun and memories for your family...well, it makes me a bit envious because I've never had that and I've never really known how to go about it with my own. We're a very close-knit little family ourselves, but I guess I'm lazy or something. I do know I lack whatever it is you're so blessed with. My daughter-in-law is much like you, and I admire that in her. As to family get togethers, my Dear Hubby's mom had 13 brothers and sisters and he has something like 60 first cousins. When he tells me stories of the gatherings at his grandparents' farm/homestead in Oregon City, I can't even begin to imagine it. My mom was an only child; my dad's sister was adopted. One of her kids was murdered years ago and I lost track of the other two 'cousins' decades ago. Isn't it strange how families evolve?? I claim my mom's first cousin Ginger as my own, and truly, that's just about all there is!

Annie said...

Amen! I love my family's traditions (mostly Danish/Swedish/northern European) + do my best to do them with my own kids. But sometimes I find the tradition becomes a bossy dictator. I have to laugh when I introduce stress and tenseness in the name of fulfilling a tradition!

Bev said...

I've always felt that traditions are one of the things that give our children roots so they can grow wings!

Since we have a "blended" (yeah, like oil & water) family, it has been interesting from time to time to not have chaos too!

You said this well Marty, thank you for reminding me!

Stie: My Favorite Things said...

We have always cherished your non-obligatory holiday policy. The holidays we have spent with you guys have been some of our best though. Thanks!

Annie Lou said...

Hello Marty,

Our family always had sort of a Charles Dickens Christmas. You know,carols and egg nog and presents beautifully wrapped under the tree. Then, our youngest son married a Puerto Rican girl and our whole family was invited to spend Christmas with them.Of course, her entire family was there,too and our "Christmas Carol" festivities turned into a Spanish festival.We sang Feliz Navidad(sp?)
and danced to spirited Island music. None of us spoke Spanish and most of her family spoke just a little English but we got by with smiles and attempts to understand each other.
We had the best time and have made it a new tradition to be together every Christmas since .
We have all tried to learn enough Spanish to be able to have a conversation and they have done even better with English.
It was sort of strange to give up Bing Crosby for Jose Feliciano but it has been so worth it to have made so many new friends and welcome them to our family and be welcomed by them.

Chancy said...

You express yourself so beautifully. thanks.

Bridget said...

Wow. You are a parent/grandparent who just gets it! I love it. What a great post. Nathan served his mission in Norway and is all too familiar with the retched smell of lutefish (sp?) My dad every Sunday would make sourdough pancakes. It gave my mom a break from cooking and it was fast and delicious. I have never understood the need to have a huge dinner on Sunday. Seems like the worst possible day to make kids wait and wait to be fed.