A little post-Christmas reflection on the holiday traditions of my big crazy family, and what they do (or don’t) do for me.
(The above is a Fiddler on the Roof reference in case you weren’t introduced to this classic movie as a child and now cannot help but spontaneously burst into song at the mere mention of certain words.)
In my family, holiday traditions just materialize out of thin air. And with the rapidly changing dynamics of seven siblings and now all our spouses and children, aunts, uncles, cousins with their spouses and children, and the random people that have been part of our family during various seasons, our family traditions can vanish just as quickly.
It’s really just logistics. For instance, when we were younger and more fit, and everyone was not quite so pregnant all the time, there was always a family Thanksgiving Day football game and everyone participated. Then there were toddlers afoot and that was the real game changer.
So we used to have a family tradition that involved Thanksgiving Day football.
While I’m never quite sure which of those things that we do are actually “official” traditions, something may seem rather unimportant to my general feeling of having a well-rounded and satisfying holiday season, until it fails to happen one year and leaves me feeling, well . . . a little lackluster.
Like there’s no eggnog.
Or more specifically, there’s no Misha’s Coffee to splash a little eggnog into. More on that in a minute.
At other times, there are “traditions” that don’t happen in our big family and I could care less.
For instance, it may be tradition that politics dominate the dinner table discussion. And that two people dig their heels in about some legislative nuance (while the rest of us beg them to stop). But sometimes it doesn’t happen. You know, we talk about our kids or the weather instead.
Sometimes, there’s nobody missing the festivities because they’re passed out on a couch from pulling an all-nighter or huddled in a corner hearing about someone’s latest crisis.
We might not be texting photo updates, making group calls on speaker phone, or putting together a food delivery for someone who stayed home sick. Even if it’s fun to make a new tradition out of the situation, like we did this year when we piled five women in a car to combine a food run with a mid-day caroling session for this year’s invalid. See how these things materialize out of thin air? It’s tradition now.
I could also care less if there’s no adrenaline pumping moment when two kiddos collide (and four sets of parents rise in unison from the nearest seating), nobody throws up, there isn’t anybody at odds, a dog doesn’t snap, a dish doesn’t clatter to the floor, a small animal isn’t squeezed or dropped, and there’s absolutely zero need for a first-aid kit.
And even if it seems like a tradition, I’m not gonna lose sleep because no one’s child caused irreparable property damage. . . especially since I get the award for that this year. Because, while 14 sugar-pumped energy forces took turns on the trampoline, mine was calmly stripping the pole covers and littering the ground with the jagged foam pieces.
I’m also pretty OK with all the children being accounted for. Even if “tradition” says that at some moment during one of our huge family get-togethers, one or more of them won’t be (and there’s that moment were everyone’s searching for a child who turns up under the Christmas tree, asleep behind the couch, crouched in a cupboard, or hiding in a toy box).
So whether these are traditions, they traditionally happen and are perpetuated by our family group, but I certainly don’t feel wistful or “off” when they don’t.
YOU RUINED CHRISTMAS
It is, however, a very long-standing tradition in our family that at some time during the gathering someone (in my generation, my parents are exempt from this) will furrow their brow, rise up mock angst in their voice, and point to someone else and say, “YOU RUINED CHRIIIIIIST-MAAAAAAS!” or Thanksgiving, Mother’s Day, or Easter. (I realize this is a quote from some movie but Googling without my speakers plugged in has caused me to give up.)
As far as I can remember, the first time this “tradition” affected me was when I was late to a midnight Christmas Eve service and set off a building alarm by trying to enter the church through a side door.
I won’t tell you the name of this church or even the town lest you happened to have heard about that disastrous event. But in short, the “silent night, holy night” wasn’t so much of either.
Listening to the polished delivery of the special narration presentation, complete with pregnant pauses, was physically painful due to the contrast of the performer’s solemnity and the breached and blaring security system that was then joined by a police siren.
Everything eventually silenced. . . but not until the middle of the closing prayer.
Following the prayer, I suddenly wondered out loud (no filter) if it was me that had set off the alarm? And my siblings (there are six of them) pounced. From that moment it was decreed that I “ruined” Christmas Eve. . . quietly at first. . . as we all red-faced scooted out of the pews. And I got a short reprieve because I drove separately (remember, I was late?). But when we got home, it was full-on ribbing.
I’m reminded of this every Christmas, and sometimes on other holidays. Especially by my favorite brother-in-law. (If he’s not mentioning the Christmas that I moved the couch and scratched his brand-new hardwood floors. Yup, I’m a mess.)
But these things are short-lived when it’s the holiday season. Within weeks, days, or even a few hours, someone could burn a turkey, under cook a pie, blow out the candles too slobbery, or forget to start the coffee and “ruin” the next birthday or holiday. And you’ll be stripped of your title as quickly and unceremoniously as it was slapped on you. But only officially. Practically speaking, it can surface in discussion at any time.
THE WORLD’S BEST COFFEE
I do know one thing. Our family, once upon a time, discovered the World’s Best Coffee and it became part of a much appreciated Christmas tradition.
This tradition started when my oldest brother was graduating from law school in D.C. and we’d all piled in the car to go up there. At the end of the weekend, we were going to attend some high church before driving back home. And we stopped at a quaint coffee shop in Alexandria for breakfast before the service.
I traveled to the Capital four times while my brother lived there and I’d have to go back through photos (that aren’t digital) to make 100 percent sure my timeline is correct. But what matters is that we fell in love with the place. And their coffee. I remember walking away from the aroma filled building and beautiful old school steam punk looking coffee roaster completely enchanted by the experience.
The graduating brother stayed on in D.C. and brought a bag of roasted coffee with him the next time he came home to Atlanta. Then somebody visited and brought some. And this (and scarcity) perpetuated a strong connection between the taste and aroma of this particular coffee and happy time spent with the family.
Thinking the supply would dry up when my brother moved back to the ATL, everyone went crazy the very next Christmas when my other brother passed out identical gifts to every one in the family and we started ripping off the wrapping paper to find Misha’s. (They weren’t even officially shipping it back then.) He’s continued that tradition now for years.
And we normally brew a pot of it right then.
I got the Tanzania and would have offered up my bag. But this year there was only a Keurig. . . and at the end of the day my Christmas kind of felt like it was missing something.
But this morning, the day after Christmas, I’ve ground some of these deliciously roasted beans and savored the aroma wafting through my house even before I took the first sip.
And it’s doing it for me. That thing. That feeling. That tradition.
And I’m lost in it.
(While putting at bay the nagging thought that I need to be Googling replacement trampoline parts.)
What about you? What is one of your favorite family traditions? I’d love to hear it!