Traditions are the Stories That Families Write Together.
I was recently watching the Hallmark Christmas channel. It’s a Christmas tradition for many people that starts before Thanksgiving and runs into the Christmas season.
It has a huge following that maybe some of the more cynical sides of us, wants to pooh pooh, and even deny that we watch. But tons of people do.
Okay, some of the stories are a little too sweetly sentimental; even a little hokey.
They speak of perfection, usually striven for, gone awry, yet lessons are learned and people come together, individually and in community, to celebrate what binds them together…their search for love.
The line at the outset of my blog is a line that a grandma speaks to her young granddaughter as she shares the cherished Christmas star that has been passed down for generations and sits atop the family Christmas tree.
And this year, it’s the young girl’s turn to put the vintage, glittering star on the tree. And as the grandmother passes the star to the girl she utters these words:
Traditions are the stories that families write together.
Years pass and grandma is gone.
These same young ones, now grown, gather at her home for one more family Christmas, before her house is sold.
Changes have come to the family; mom and dad have divorced, and one daughter is married, with another teetering on the edge of indecision about the married state, even after accepting a ring. A failed relationship where the groom got cold feet, along with her own parents’ divorce, fuels her vacillation. “Will love last?
The complicated answer for each decision is not easy, but endearing.
We, as a society sometimes too quickly ignore the obvious benefits of what some call “elder wisdom.” And, though grandma has passed, she does provide it for the multiple generations of her family, through a loving letter, and a Christmas charge to all of them.
A list arrives, via a lawyer, with a letter from Grandma… and a last Christmas request from her. She asks them to continue for one last time, the yearly Christmas traditions that they followed as an intact family.
And they were:
1. Get out the Christmas decorations for outside and in.
2. Pick out the perfect tree at Finch’s Christmas Tree Farm.
3. Make and drink Nana’s hot apple cider.
4. Make her inimitable gingerbread cookie men (no one thought to ask her for the recipe while she lived). It’s a make it up as you go. Sound familiar?
5. Go ice skating.
6. Get the generational Christmas family photo taken.
7. Attend the town’s annual local Christmas dance.
Is it simplistic, and a bit unrealistic to think that the gathering of holidays can fix differences where hurts linger long, and the “ho ho ho” of even holiday merriment can even sometimes bring up old behaviors and past memories that make the traditions untenable for some, so that it even feels suffocating?
Maybe. But it can also be healing in a way. And that is what this story, and my blog is attempting to say. People are tuning in to hear a semblance of their own stories, or new ones that allow them to find some bit of resonance in their own lives.
As I sat there and listened, it resonated on some level for me.
Sometimes, but not always, those traditions that families helped to make, follow and keep, are the binding force that can help and heal…if we give them half a chance.
Recently, at a Thanksgiving shared meal with friends, I gave a small child a Christmas bear that spoke Clement Clarke Moore’s “The Night Before Christmas” to a smaller bear, presumably the talking bear’s son, that was sitting on its lap.
The small boy played it incessantly and gave it to his Dad to listen to, and even recite. It was a memory in the making.
I was interrupted, and never saw the end of the Hallmark Christmas Channel made for TV movie, but just maybe that divorced mom and dad reconnected on some level. And the young woman who was their daughter and had the commitment jitters because of past disappointments in those she loved, either moved on, more whole, or realized that taking someone’s hand in marriage is indeed a leap of faith.
But, for many, it’s a leap worth taking.
Folks, this is a looooong way round the block of saying, please try and hold onto the stories that bind you as a family, not just at Christmas, but every chance you get to gather and make new traditions and new stories.
Get out those Christmas books you remember from childhood. Buy some new ones that catch your eye at a local brick and mortar book store.
Pile them up in a spot that’s prominent and ask your grands to pick one out for a read aloud. Or better yet, you read a page and let them read one.
Yow can even make a tree made of picture books for them. It’s fun and festive.
Read, and even write some stories together as a family that speak to the traditions that bind you together.
Years from now, these now-adult children, book in hand, will be thumbing through a memory of a tradition of reading to their children that they are passing on…because of you!
And do watch “Reunited at Christmas” on the Hallmark Channel.
Grandma had a great deal of “elder wisdom” to pass on to her family…and yours.
REUNITED AT CHRISTMAS
Premieres: WEDNESDAY NOVEMBER 21 8pm/7c
Stars: Nikki DeLoach and Mike Faiola
Frazzled and struggling with writer’s block, novelist Samantha (DeLoach), along with her boyfriend, heads home to her late grandmother’s home to spend Christmas. While at home with family, her grandmother’s wise words reveal the true meaning of Christmas with Samantha at a time when she most needs encouragement.