“Just because something is traditional is no reason to do it, of course.”
― Lemony Snicket
I grew up handicapped by a severe lack of ethnicity. No one in my family ever gathered to make pierogis, wore a crown of candles on St Lucia's Day, or braided a challah for Friday night. Our heritage came from various corners of the UK, but so long ago that any vestige of tradition had long ago fallen away. Oh sure, on Sundays once in a while we had kippers or broiled kidneys, but this was more likely due to my parents' love of the exotic rather than anything from our heritage.
We did have a few recurring customs in our Christmases, though. I recall my parents declaring the biggest log from the small pile of wood they bought for occasional fires to be the Yule log. We would decorate it with perhaps some ribbon and a few branches of the holly my grandfather mailed every year from his giant tree in Oklahoma. It would burn through Christmas morning as my sister and I dug into our stockings, not those fancy store-bought ones, but knee socks that had been pulled from our bureau drawer. These had the usual inexpensive toys, and were padded out with tangerines and unshelled walnuts. Like a boa after a heavy lunch, the sock would always encompass the silhouette of a box holding a golden foil Droste orange, a glorious solid globe of chocolate that would break apart into sections when whacked on a table.
We were like many other families on Christmas morning, spending half of the day in our pajamas, getting even more hyped up on too much candy and sorting through our booty.
Now, so many years later, my childhood memories of Christmas have distilled down to fragments.
- Being woken up one year for the Christmas Eve service and sleepily putting on the new blouse and matching skirt of polished cotton that had all kinds of candy printed on it. We were always allowed to open one gift on Christmas Eve and my mother must have made sure that was the one I opened. I remember admiring how it made a perfect circle when I sat on my bedroom floor.
- Hopping in the driveway on my new pogo stick, wearing a really hideous striped barber-shop-quartet sort of jacket that was also a gift and I just loved.
- And in one truly wonderful year, my sister and I received a printed cloth, that when placed over a card table, created a playhouse where we could inhabit our often-visited imaginary world of Toytown.
Now my grown-up Christmases are filled with pajama'd grandchildren, an occasional menorah, and an annual omelet with smoked salmon and bagels on the side. When I sit in my living room, mug of tea in hand and an ocean of wrapping paper at my feet, I realize that the best traditions are the ones that we create ourselves.