There’s a commercial on television where a love-struck guy saves all of the chewing gum wrappers from a girl that he likes for years. The day they meet, the day they go on their first date, when they get engaged, married, have a baby, and then they’re old and have a bunch of gum wrappers. I’m afraid that I’ve drained all of the sentimentality out of the scene on accident, it really is cute. But I don’t have a sentimental bone in my body. I don’t save anything, I have no keepsakes, no affinity toward nostalgia in regards to stuff. I have to remind myself regularly to take pictures because I know that I’ll want to remember what my kids looked like when they were younger.
Traditions on the other hand, there’s something about an event that we do over and over that melds itself to my sense of importance. I don’t know the difference, one is things the other is events, but whatever it is, one I get, the other I don’t.
When we were growing up, my parents wouldn’t let us open a gift before Christmas day. There those presents sat, under the tree, begging to be opened and played with. My grinch parents held their ground and we waited until Christmas morning. But not Christmas morning officially, technically- we also couldn’t come out of our rooms until 6am, so I would just lay there from about 3am staring at the ceiling until 6am rolled around. I think that I pushed them on each of the rules, but of course now do the same thing with my kids. Because it’s tradition. We always eat ham for Christmas and turkey for Thanksgiving. It’s tradition. We usually went to the same handful of places for family vacation, all ate at the dinner table most nights, got loads of candy one way or another on Halloween. Tradition. Every first day of school my mom wrote me a note in my lunch and on Valentine’s Day, mom put some special candy in my lunch. Tradition.
I don’t know what it is about traditions that I like, but I just do. They ground me, connect me to something transcendent, bigger than myself. The calendar marks meaningless events until we build a routine around them that makes them matter to us, to our family. I don’t remember Christmas generically, I remember hot cocoa, Christmas Eve candlelit services, and Sees Candy. I remember traditions.
So, I have tried to be very purposeful about traditions in my family. On Mother’s Day we stay in our PJ’s and go get breakfast before church. On birthdays I take the kids out to eat individually. I have a journal for each of them that I write a note in on special occasions. And the first weekend of November, I take Tiffanni, Addyson, and Carsyn to the Christmas Village and then out to eat at the Melting Pot.
This weekend we spent the better part of Friday at Christmas Village. An estrogen extravaganza of crafts, fluffy fashions, personalized knick knacks, and chip dips. Walking every aisle, Tiffanni in a wheelchair for all of our sanity, and the girls darting in and out of every booth that offered a free sample. It was the fifth year in a row and I almost surprised them- only my crew thinks about Christmas the first week of November. Even my birthday has been drowned in eggnog.
After our fill of elf-shaped door hangers and earthen ware ornaments, we left Santa’s temporary home and headed to The Melting Pot. Both of my girls will tell you that it’s their favorite restaurant. And it’s not because of the food. It’s because of the tradition.
Tradition centers us. It reminds us of who we are, who we have always been. Some parts of our lives have changed, but we can always come back to these moments. The unchanging moments that keep us together and reinforce stability. Traditions are the events that protect us from the feeling that our world is falling apart because everything seems like it is not as it should be. How we relate, how we eat, what bedtime looks like, who drives who to practice, who fixes meals, what shows we watch together (because the tv is apparently stuck on Food Network), and who prays for the kids at bedtime. The traditions point out to the kids that everything isn’t different, there are still these moments when life is simple and good and peaceful. And somehow navigating a wheelchair through a flood of humanity during the first weekend of November, humming carols and begging sample fudge, quiets the longing for a better day and instead reminds us that the beauty and simplicity of yesterday just isn’t that far away.