For most of my adult life, I’ve been a stickler for the strict separation of one holiday season from another. Jack-o-lanterns next to bathing suits, cornucopias and turkeys next to witches, Christmas decorations up before Thanksgiving—all that seasonal blending normally makes me want to puke.
For years now, I’ve fought the good fight, holding off on listening to Christmas music or putting up any decorations until the day after Thanksgiving (except for outdoor lights; when you live in Minnesota, if you get a nice day in October, put them up, calendar be damned, just don’t turn them on).
But this year, I don’t know what’s gotten into me: I’ve been humming Christmas songs for the last week, with three days still to go before Thanksgiving. I’ve started pulling decorations out of their boxes and even buying a few new ones. We’ve already watched The Grinch, A Christmas Story, and Elf (though I’m not sure that one counts, since I’m sure we’ll all agree that movie’s a year-round gem). Last night, I saw a commercial for a local production of The Nutcracker and squealed like I had a sugarplum jammed up my—well, you get the picture, and it’s a disturbingly jolly one.
Even as I write this paragraph, I’m listening to Christmas music on my phone, having spent the last hour creating my holiday playlist (now playing: “White Christmas” by The Drifters) instead of working. Yep, it’s a red-and-green, holly-jolly nightmare the sane, rational me would never have condoned in the past.
So what gives? This deep philosophical question has been snowballing around my brain for days (thankfully, not twelve of them yet), consuming more of my mental energy than I care to admit. It’s not just me, either—even my kids, who are old enough to be blasé about anything Santa-related, are suddenly acting merry and gay. (Yes, I said gay. Take that, Hallmark.)
But—after days of ruminating over multiple mugs of cinnamon-spiced hot chocolate and getting high off the endless bayberry candles I’ve been burning, I think I’ve finally figured it out. (No, you can’t really get high from bayberry candles. At least…I don’t think so. Joking, people, joking.) The problem is, in a word: tradition. (Cue Topol. Yes, I know, Fiddler on the Roof is not technically a Christmas movie, but maybe it should be.) Where was I? Ah, yes. Tradition. Tradition is, I believe, the root cause of my Christmas mania, or rather, to be more precise, a craving for tradition is at the heart of it all.
For those of you who’ve been following my blog this year, you may remember that my family and I just experienced an out-of-state relocation. While things went about as smoothly as can be expected with a cross-country move involving a three-day car ride, three kids, and one crazy Weimaraner, the adventure (yes, that’s meant ironically) left us starting so many things over from scratch, including many traditions, that I think we’ve been feeling a bit out to sea, more perhaps than we realized until now. With Thanksgiving arriving this week, we’re staring our first real holiday in our new home straight in the face (I’m sorry, but Halloween, Labor Day, and the 4th of July don’t really count), and that’s what I think is really behind my seasonal lunacy.
After all, what is it that makes a house more than just a home, if not the traditions and memories you create there? And those rituals, those decorations, they do more than just make a place feel homey; they’re a real, tangible link to your past, to family and friends who may be far away, or even gone. So even though I’m not hosting Thanksgiving this year, I pulled out a few decorations (only a few because, and let’s be honest here: in terms of decorating, Thanksgiving is Christmas’ ugly stepsister. How many turkeys do you really need to put up?).
The candles pictured here, for example, were my mother’s, and I’ve put them out every Thanksgiving since she died. If you look too closely at the faces of the Indian and pilgrim girls, you can see they’re a bit melted away (it got too hot in her storage area one year). But when I hold them to my nose, I can still smell their faint fragrance. With that comes a host of memories of Thanksgivings past—the house filling with the heavenly aroma of Mom’s roast turkey; complaining about having to watch the football games she and my brother loved so much; fighting over the wishbone with my sisters; enjoying the bizarre but delicious turkey/Miracle Whip/canned cranberry sauce/white bread sandwiches for lunch the day after; and above all, the love and laughter filling our family’s tiny house then, and my heart today. And you know what? Those memories, triggered by the simple act of bringing out my mother’s candles, made me smile, and it felt so good.
Traditions are reliable. They’re a comforting constant in a life that so often seems so uncertain. We may be in a different house in a different part of the country, celebrating with different members of our family than we have in the past, but those familiar decorations, those traditions, those happy feelings of love and laughter—these are all the things that will make us feel at home, no matter where we are and no matter what else has happened, and I’m craving more.
This year (in a break with one longstanding tradition), instead of resisting the urge to leap into the holiday season (and grousing about those Christmas crazies who do), I’m giving myself permission to join them, to dance merrily into this noisy, festive month a few days earlier than usual. So if you’re looking for me, you can find me unapologetically chugging eggnog, sucking on candy canes, hanging mistletoe, blasting Christmas songs in my car, cuddling up on the couch with my kids watching How the Grinch Stole Christmas (and maybe after they’ve gone to bed, Bad Santa with my hubby). And for all of those traditions our family will celebrate this week and in the month ahead, the old cherished ones as well as the new and unfamiliar, I know one tradition will continue that is the same no matter where I am: I’ll be giving thanks for all of them.
Wishing all of you a safe and joyful holiday celebrating, and creating, beautiful traditions of your own!