Red Lodge, Montana

Christmas Traditions

“Tradition! Tradition!” So sang Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. It really is what carries us from generation to generation. But have you found, as your family changes, that your traditions change, too?

Christmas Day was always pretty quiet (once the presents were opened) in my house: My parents, my brother, and my mom’s parents. We were a very religious family, and Christ’s birth was always a big part of our celebrations, but our church didn’t have a Christmas service, instead encouraging us to spend it with family. But Christmas Eve was chaos! When I was young, it was my dad’s two sisters, his mother, and my mom’s parents, and sometimes relatives I didn’t know that would be visiting. As his sisters married and had children of their own, the gathering grew in magnitude. When my grandmother married my step-grandfather, a New York Italian, Christmas Eve dinner took on another whole (gigantic!) dimension. We’ve continued the tradition of lasagna for Christmas Eve dinner long after his passing. Today those young cousins have spouses and children of their own, and my grandmother has two great-great grandchildren. We can’t all be together every year, but we know we’re all there in spirit.

When we moved to Montana six years ago, I had to get over the feeling that Christmas Eve meant having tons of family around. As much as I miss all of the clatter, I find I really love our new-found tradition of working at the bookstore, wrapping presents, helping people find last-minute gifts that they are really proud to give. Then we go home for a quiet evening of lasagna, watching old favorite (sappy) Christmas movies.

That first year, I asked each member of the family what one food item it wouldn’t be Christmas without. I picked turkey, our daughter picked her grandfather’s roll recipe, our son said stuffing, and Gary picked pumpkin pie. So evolved the tableful of too much food that no one ever finished. Now that our family continues to grow, with the arrival of our first grandson this September, our traditions are again changing. We’re doing what I said I’d never do, and flying on Christmas Day to see our daughter’s family in Colorado.

I find myself harkening back to childhood memories of Christmas. My grandfather, who taught me what a true Christian was, and I think subliminally instilled in me a love of the people of Montana (he grew up on a family homestead in Mosby, Montana in the early 1900s), was the one who really spoiled me. He always bought me what I really wanted, even if I didn’t need it. He also is the one that took me to see Santa, and always stopped to see the reindeer on display in their little pens.

Christmas makes me think of family, and appreciate what I have and where our family has been. I still put out the same nativity set that my mother used from the time I was born, Christmas tree ornaments from my children’s first Christmases, and some of the same dishes that my grandmother used to set the table for Christmas dinner. But when I told our son that I was getting a standing rib roast for Christmas dinner, he immediately said, “What, no turkey?” To which I replied, “But you don’t even like turkey.” Ah, tradition.

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