As I’ve written in several blog posts, this protracted COVID stay-at-home over fall and winter months provides an opportunity for a lot of quiet self reflection. But it also means that this year’s holidays are very different from any we’ve ever experienced, with many revered traditions having to fall by the wayside. So maybe we can also reflect on some long-held holiday traditions that may have become so structured and ingrained that they’ve drifted from their original worthy intention into restrictive, precisely-defined obligatory tasks. Maybe creating new traditions is a silver lining to the COVID cloud . . .
For example, here’s a tradition that has evolved for me around having a Christmas tree (not COVID-related but you’ll get the picture):
I’m a lapsed Roman Catholic, and Steve is a non-practicing Jew. Still, for many, many years I insisted on putting up a Christmas tree. Having a Great Room cathedral ceiling in our Colorado Rocky Mountain home, sometimes our tree was REALLY tall and impressive, requiring a ladder to decorate it. After Steve got the fresh-cut tree secure and straight in the tree stand (with some struggle, maneuvering, and a few choice words), my tradition was to decorate it while listening to Christmas music, and sipping eggnog (spiked with rum and topped with nutmeg). For perfectionist me, it took HOURS to get all the lights, ornaments, garland, and ribbon “just so.”
But then I realized I was doing my tree setup later and later each year until, finally, I was doing it on Christmas morning. At which point I said, “OK, this is ridiculous!” My lovely tradition had become onerous—a task, duty, or responsibility involving an amount of effort and difficulty that is oppressively burdensome (Oxford Dictionary). So I stopped having a Christmas tree, and I eventually gave away all the lights and decorations.
But last year in our new house and new life in Arizona I decided to revive my tradition—with significant modification: we bought a pre-lit fake pine tree, complete with built-in tree stand. I just unpack and connect three tree sections, spread out the branches, plug it in, and turn it on. (Altho I do admit to taking a bit of time spreading out the branches just so, while drinking some non-dairy, non-spiked, coconut milk eggnog—with lots of nutmeg.)
The tree has no Christmas tree balls or ornaments of any kind, no garland, and not even any ribbon. Some might say it looks plain, but to me it looks lovely—tall and elegant in its simplicity, with warm white lights that brighten up our new Great Room. While I appreciate and enjoy a fully-dressed Christmas tree, this new tradition doesn’t feed my perfectionism. Further, every time I look at it, I’m reminded about what is bottomline important to me: the Light of the season and the Light of Humanity.
Other new tradition examples are COVID-related and are from the tiny Colorado mountain town we used to live in (pop. 260, give or take): in lieu of little ones sitting on Santa’s lap at the annual town Christmas dinner, this year there were takeout dinners available for pickup, and Santa heard Christmas wish lists by Zoom, and then he traveled around for all to see in the town fire truck. And instead of various potluck holiday gatherings, residents are going out on their deck at 7 p.m. on the nights leading up to Christmas, and ringing bells together (similar to the town tradition of sometimes going out and howling at the full moon together—gotta love those “somewhat feral” mountain folk!).
So what about your holiday traditions? . . .
* Reflect on (and maybe write in your journal about) your usual holiday traditions—the costs and the payoffs.
* How are you modifying or replacing them this year?
* What modified or new traditions might you want to adopt next year and the years after that?
It’s possible our new traditions may even be better than the old ones. For example, there’s something to be said about doing easy Zoom gatherings vs. running around housecleaning, food shopping, cooking, setting up, etc. for guests, and enduring frenetic car or airplane travel that frazzles the nerves of those guests, and wreaks havoc on the environment. Instead of the traditional frenzy, we have a golden opportunity to make new choices for joyous, meaningful holidays. And who knows, maybe next year (when COVID is handled?) you’ll actually have a renewed and fresh holiday spirit unburdened by “Christmas Past.”
BTW—A personal aside: years ago as an est Training activity, various groups of us joined in the tradition of singing Christmas carols at hospitals, nursing homes, prisons, etc. We wore buttons that said, “You’re the gift.” Please know that I consider YOU to be a gift. And please accept my gratitude for your continuing support of my Muse-ings here, and accept my heartfelt wish to you all for a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, or Happy Kwanzaa; a belated Happy Solstice, Hanukkah, or Bodhi Day; or a wonderful whatever-you-celebrate. May the Light shine on you, and may you BE the Light for others.
Love and (virtual!) hugs to you all,
P. S. Our glowing “new tradition” Christmas tree:
Thanks Nancy, that was lovely and heartfelt and it fills my heart.
I love your tree! Enjoy this week, however you choose (or are compelled, given this particular season) to celebrate it.
“Mark David Gerson is the best friend a writer ever had!” http://www.markdavidgerson.com