Family Traditions

We all absorb those things we are exposed to in our youths.  For good or bad, they weave themselves into our mortal coil and we carry these traditions along with us as we go forward and perhaps pass them along to others.

I sent my Christmas cards out this year but forgot to put a return address on them, which prompted a call from my ex-neighbor Mary in Tigard as she couldn’t remember where she had my address written down.  We had a nice chat and caught up on the goings on each of us have had since I left the neighborhood.  It was good to talk to her and I miss her quite a bit.  Me being the technogeek I am, you may be asking yourself why I’d go with such a staid holiday tradition as the Christmas card when there are infinitely more geeky ways to pass along my holiday wishes.  My grandma (Mom’s mom) had a tradition; she would hang pieces of yarn on the wall above her dining table and hang all of her Christmas cards from them through the holiday season.  I thought it was a nice thing for her to do, so each year I send out my stack of cards and hope for a few in return to bless my mantle.  I don’t have a mantle over the fireplace just yet so I’m stapling them to the wall this year.  No, that will not become a holiday tradition for me but since the mantle still hasn’t been built, it seemed to fit into the construction theme of that area of my house.

Another tradition, which I normally loathe just a little, is the tradition of the Christmas letter.  I suppose it’s fine to catch folks up on what you’ve been up to and going through over the last year but if they really cared about you and were truly friends, they’d know far more about your life than the Christmas letter tells.  The very idea of it just seems foreign to me.  Nonetheless, I was somewhat disappointed upon apparently being dropped from my aunt’s mailing list for the annual Christmas letter.  It was my one opportunity to see how my cousins were getting on in life, which historically speaking has not been terribly well.  I did, however, get one from Maren, who is the receptionist at the Oregon Food Bank and is also the girlfriend of Robert, who is the volunteer coordinator for my Thursday night shifts.

And this year, I chose to break with a longstanding family holiday tradition: being depressed during the holidays.  All sorts of trials and tribulations apparently beset both my mother and father around November and December through the years.  So with the coming of the holidays, each would slip into a deep funk, not to be seen in good spirits again until the first breaths of spring would blow life into them.  I took this fiber and wove it into my psyche; I accepted this burden as if it were my own and carried it for many years.  In my sophomore year of college, I had a one bedroom apartment and decorated it with ‘the Christmas stick’; literally a stick I pulled from the alley behind the apartment building, I strung one short strand of white lights on it.  It stayed in place long after Christmas, still being lit on most evenings just because I liked its presence but only at Christmas time did it serve to fuel my depression.  I never questioned why, over the years, I’d accepted this depression into my life.  It just seemed like the thing to do.

But this year I chose a new tradition.  No longer would I sulk around for the entire month of December.  No longer would I force myself to go somewhere (fishing, friends’ homes, a hike) on Christmas day with a heavy heart, kicking my shadow along the way.  As I looked back over the years, I saw that I had no reason at all to be depressed.  Despite their own unhappiness, my parents did a pretty decent job of putting on Christmas for my brother and I, with a good spread of gifts and all sorts of surprises as I grew up.  No major catastrophes beset me during these months, no great losses, no major disappointments.  As it turns out, I had no reason at all to be unhappy or depressed so I stopped making myself unhappy and depressed for the holidays.  It was perhaps one of the best gifts I could have given myself.