What’s your favorite Christmas tradition?
I was asked this recently, and I didn’t hesitate.
When our children were young, decorating the Christmas tree was a big deal. We would pick a date on the calendar when we were all going to be home, usually in early December – and spend the entire evening putting the tree up.
Mimi would spend days before baking our favorite Christmas cookies: the pecan tassies, the chocolate dipped and coconut crusted short breads, the green-dyed and wreath-shaped sugar cookies, and my favorite: the chocolate covered toffee.
Hot chocolate and egg-nog were poured for all of us.
We would spread out all of the ornaments, most of the gifts from friends and family through the years – the hanging of each one eliciting a story, a memory, and a tug at the heart. Six of the ornaments were a reminder of our very first Christmas together, shortly after Mimi and I were married and had very little. She made three angel ornaments out of material she had left over from the wedding dress she made for herself; and I made three ornaments out of scrap wood I had lying in the basement. Those were good days, when love and simplicity reigned.
John Denver and the Muppets Christmas album would be placed in the CD player – and Fozzy Bear would start singing “Christmas is Coming, the goose is getting fat…”; Miss Piggy would belt out “Fiiiiive Golden Rings,” and Kermit would gently remind everyone of our hope that the coming of the Christ child would bring Peace on Earth.
John, our oldest child, would be given the honor of placing the first ornament on the tree. He had a Dodger the dog ornament that he found in a McDonald’s happy meal that was his favorite, and we would take his picture as he placed it on the tree. When you squeezed it, it played a Christmas carol. Over the next hour or so, one by one we would each take an ornament and place it on the tree. Since we were each sort of doing our own thing, none of us would see the full effect until it was over. We were always stunned by the result.
When we decided the tree was full, Molly – our third child would decide what went on the top of the tree: star or angel. I would lift her high in my arms, over my head, with the topping of her choice in her arms as she placed it on the single branch sticking up out of the top of the tree.
Then, to finish the task , Adam – our second child – would crawl under three and plug in the lights. We would have turned all the lights in the room out so we could be wowed by the first glimpse of this sacred space we had just completed. There was always a gasp as we held each others hands and gawked, John Denver now signing “Silent Night.”
Soon, stockings would be hung around or near it, then presents wrapped and placed under it. For us, the tree became the centerpiece.
My oldest is now 31. He sent me a picture last week of him hanging that old, faded Dodger the dog ornament that years ago stopped playing its song. My first thought was that he was carrying on the tradition – and with pride and nostalgia, cherishing the honor he was bestowed, placed the first ornament on the tree.
Then I looked a little closer and saw there was already an ornament way at the bottom, just below his left knee. I recognized it immediately – a choo-choo train colored bright red and and green and blue. It was put there by his own son – little 20 month old Jacob. The ornament is one his grandma, Mimi, gave him last month.
There was something deeply heart-warming about that – the passing on of a tradition from one generation to the next. Such is Christmas – a family celebrating the love of and in a holiday that’s all about the coming of love into the world.
May this Christmas season bring you joy. May the traditions you honor bond you to friend and family. May there be another to carry on the legacies you have built long after you have come and gone. And may there be enough joy on your journey to sustain you as you wander with wonder Into the Mystic.