As a child, the holidays were full of traditions. On Thanksgiving, we would go to my grandpa’s (GPT) house in Muncie IN, eat Thanksgiving dinner (with oyster stuffing!) while watching football, and then we would put up the Christmas decorations while listening to Mannheim Steamroller holiday albums, cassettes, or CDs, depending on the decade. Some of the ornaments were very old, so as a child I was instructed to be careful. As I grew older, I realized that graduated and was able to put ornaments on the tree that I wasn’t previously allowed to.
There could be arguments about which ornaments went where and when… Certainly there were arguments about who opened presents first in our chronological line-up!
When we went back home, we would put up our own Christmas tree and decorations. Some years Dad would have to anchor the tree to the window, because that cat broke the base from climbing it one too many times. The tree had to be fully “fluffed” after it came out of the box, so that it more fully mimicked the appearance of a real tree. Then the lights went on. Then the ornaments, that came out of their original boxes no matter how long we’d had them. Ornaments were less fragile at home, so my brother and I could put whatever ornaments we wanted on the tree. Some of them we had made ourselves as we proceeded through elementary school.
Holiday music at home was a little different too. Nearly every year, even through high school, we pulled out holiday vinyl: Johnny Mathis, The Chipmunks, Elvis Blue Christmas, Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole. I never really like the Elvis one, but Mom seemed to.
Once my ex- and I married and moved to Okinawa, we maintained some of the traditions from our own families. We put up the decorations, sent out cards. The traditions weren’t such a big deal to him, but to me they were a connection to my family 10,000 miles away. I knew on Thanksgiving evening they would be putting their decorations up just like we were…
After I separated from my ex- things started changed more drastically. That first holiday alone in 2009, I debated whether I wanted to put up decorations at all. He and I were still technically married, but we’d been living apart for 8 months. The divorce papers had been filed. I was broke and feeling very alone. But I decided to put up the decorations. I cried through the whole thing, as the holiday music played in the background. Every ornament I put up reminded me of something sad. But at the end of it I was glad I’d put up the decorations.
So Yule has become a smaller affair for me over the years. Moving from a house, to a one-bedroom apartment, to a studio has called for a culling of the non-essentials, and some of the ornaments didn’t make it through cuts.
This year I even have a flat Yule tree that hangs from my wall, because a real or artificial tree, no matter the size, would take up too much space.
The music has shifted to Over the Rhine, Jewel, Bette Midler, Barry Manilow, John Denver but the old standbys are still there too. Bing, The Chipmunks, Charlie Brown Christmas.
Mannheim Steamroller has been ejected from the playlist…
The traditions persist with the ornaments too. Some of the oldies are still in there. Norman Rockwell used to hang on GPT’s Christmas tree. It’s older than me. He gifted it to me one year, and now it hangs on mine. Right next to the Eiffel tower that I picked up a few years ago, and a buggy one that I made as gifts while I was working on my Masters degree. Now when Norman goes up, I get to think about GPT and the rest of my family too.
I also get to think about how amazing it is that it hasn’t broken yet. It’s been to Okinawa, Japan and back, among other places…
There are other nice memories on the tree. When I put up Willow’s bulldog ornament, Bear’s chow ornament goes up too, even though she died a long time ago. That little picture of my hung in Great-grandma Tillie’s house for as long as I can remember. My aunt, Tonya, made the littler bird feeder for my mom many years ago. Tonya died back in 1998, when she was 23.
My holiday ornaments are also reminders of adventures on my travels. GPT was an extensive traveler, and he’d often buy a new ornament at the different destinations he visited. I like that idea, and I’ve adopted it as my own. You already saw the Eiffel Tower, but below there are ornaments that I got on a cruise to Mexico and the crane I got in China town in San Francisco. The flat red one records my past infatuation with Jewel’s music. (I still like her music.) The little diver man documents my SCUBA experiences in Okinawa.
I even get to enjoy holiday cheer in glasses that came out every year at GPT’s house.
There was one ornament that went on the tree last every year. He was placed in the front of the tree, in the middle. We knew we were finished decorating when we flipped the on/off switch on the bottom of Santa, and he started playing music. Dead batteries aside, he has always worked. His candle no longer works, and the door that holds his battery in is gone and has been replaced with tape. But he still plays. He’s too big for my flat tree, so he has a place of honor on my wall.
I guess my new traditions really just involve me maintaining the old traditions in my family. But I like how I’ve made them my own.
I love the connections they maintain to both the past and the present. I even appreciate the sadness that accompanies the holidays too, because I’m reminded of all of the love that has ever been in my life. Some of those people may be gone now, but the love is still there.
So happy holidays no matter what you celebrate or how you celebrate!!