Another month, another holiday season. This month’s festive season – for me it’s Advent, Yuletide, Christmas – is often steeped in ritual and tradition.
Like you and yours, my husband and I, and now our family, have created our own rituals, and did so from the first.
I remember the year we got engaged, we looked to the fall as a perfect time to be married. Most of our family assumed we’d settle on September or October, but we both favored November.
What does this have to do with Christmas?
“Our anniversary,” I remember Kevin declaring, “will serve not only to celebrate our marriage but also to usher in the holiday season!” And so our traditions together began.
Like most families, we mark the holidays by engaging in many of the same activities year after year.
At one of my favorite events of the season, Belmont’s own “Turn on the Town,” I ran into a friend who spoke highly of Rockport’s tree lighting event.
“Oh,” he said, while we both stood beneath the artificial snow and each enjoyed a mouthful of hot chocolate. “It’s absolutely amazing: everything everywhere is lit up with white twinkle lights and Santa comes to town on a lobster boat.”
Yes, it sounded lovely, but I knew our family would never be able to make time for this particular event. It was just too new to us – it’s not part of our history, so it’s not part of our holiday lexicon. Like most families, we’re just too over-extended to add to our repertoire of festivities.
As I call to mind our holiday traditions, I see we have many of the “usual suspects” – decorating the tree and the house, hanging the wreath, sending Christmas cards, hanging stockings on the banister, baking cookies, creating candy-laden gingerbread houses, singing carols.
But one of my most cherished traditions is immersing myself yet again in the same stories I read last December and the December before that and the one before that.
Since college, I have lost myself in the prose of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. At each encounter, I am hooked from the very first line:
“Marley was dead, to begin with…”
And I get chills when Marley utters these words after Scrooge assures him he was always a good man of business:
“Business! Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were all my business…”
Then there’s A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote. This novella tells about Capote’s life when he lived with relatives as a young boy in the rural South. There is an older woman, a distant cousin, with whom he becomes close. The story is steeped in the traditions of the activities they engaged in from Thanksgiving until Christmas: the annual fruitcake baking, the long walk into the woods to cut down the perfect Christmas tree, and the gift exchange of homemade kites.
When he turns 10 or so, Capote is sent away to school and he writes poignantly about how painful the separation is for them both. When he receives a letter informing him that his cousin has died, he has already sensed it.
“When that happens, I know it. A message saying so merely confirms a piece of news some secret vein had already received, severing from me an irreplaceable part of myself, letting it loose like a kite on a broken string.”
Among my other favorites are some shorter works: “Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus,” O’Henry’s The Gift of the Magi, Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Match Girl, and Hawthorne’s The Sister Years. All beautifully rendered pieces, all worthy of revisiting year after year.
Well, this reverie of best-loved literature and other beloved holiday traditions must come to a close. There is a stack of Christmas cards that need signing and the gingerbread house is in dire need of immediate attention.
Does anyone know a confectionery contractor I might call?