I recently heard a psychologist discussing the drive some people feel to purchase the perfect gifts for Christmas, with little regard to cost. This psychologist maintained that people remember the traditions of Christmas long past the euphoria of that perfect gift. I began to think back to my childhood and she was right as the memories I treasure are not of any particular gift but rather the traditions my family followed.
Christmas morning we had to wait until my father had returned from the barn chores and had eaten his breakfast. It was the only time of the year that Dad decided to partake of a second cup of coffee. Oh, how he loved watching his three children squirm in anticipation of getting to tear into the colourfully wrapped parcels beneath the tree. It was a real tree, I might add. We would trek off to the woods and try to locate that perfect tree. One year Dad was busy at work and my brother and I chaffed that we would not get the tree in time to decorate for Christmas. Off to the woods, carrying an axe, my brother and I found what we felt was the perfect tree. We chopped it down and found it was too heavy for us to carry even between us so we dragged it up the path to the house. This was not a white Christmas year and the fact that we slugged the tree through the mud resulted in a very dirty tree. Dad stood the tree up against the clothes line and washed our perfect tree before it could be taken inside. This tree was often discussed around the family dinner table.
Real stockings were put out for Santa to fill but Mom grew tired of sticky, hard candy getting stuck in the toes and replaced the stockings with agate pie plates. A real treat on the plate was a juicy, big orange. Oranges were not a common item in the house. Our Grandfather would buy us a case of mandarin oranges each year. Large bowls of fresh fruit appeared on the table Christmas Day.
Special food was part of the traditions in our house. Our home was the gathering point for aunts, uncles and cousins. We raised our own turkeys and a large bird was always saved for Mom to roast in her large kitchen oven. She would serve carrot pudding with hard sauce, mincemeat, cherry, pumpkin and apple pie.
At the end of Christmas week the same family members would once again arrive to celebrate the New Year. My grandfather would go into Kingston to the fish market and buy large containers of fresh oysters. Mom would turn these little gems into a large kettle of oyster stew. The stew was served with cheese, crackers and pickles. Only one person around the table made a meal of the cheese, crackers and pickles. Apparently oysters are not everyone’s cup of tea.
Once the ‘old guy’ and I had a family of our own we started some of our own traditions. After church on Christmas Eve, pyjamas would magically appear on the kids beds. Breakfast was always turnovers; a tradition we carry on even today.
Special Christmas ornaments, handed down through the family are unwrapped and placed on the tree and around the house. There is nothing of great value, except in the memories of family.
The wonderful thing about traditions is that they can be started at any time. Whether it be taking a drive around the community to take in the glory of all the lights of the season, cooking a special recipe that only appears at Christmas, donating to the local hospital, church or mission, to assist others or something that is only special to your family, you too can create a tradition.
Take some time this year to start your own tradition and have a Merry Christmas.