Sunday, December 20, 2009

Traditions connect generations; don’t give up on them

Previously published in the Terre Haute Tribune Star, 12/20/09

TERRE HAUTE — “If you guys buy an artificial Christmas tree, I’m leaving.” Although I don’t recall writing it, I found that note in my hand writing in one of the numerous boxes of my parents’ precious pictures and papers. The handwriting and paper it was written on leads me to think I was 14 or 15 when I wrote it.

Two things struck me when I read it: First, why was I so strongly against the idea of an artificial Christmas tree and, second, why did my mother keep the note.

Coincidentally, a few hours before I found that note I had suggested to my wife that we consider buying an artificial tree. She was surprised that I suggested it (“I’m surprised you, of all people, would suggest that.”) We didn’t make any decision but later that evening she found the note I’d written more than 30 years ago, and I’m looking at our real tree as I write this. I guess my disdain for artificial trees is obvious to my family.

No one should be surprised that people respond passionately, angrily and/or forcefully to change, especially when that which is changing carries a lot of meaning for them. I’ve tried to remember writing that note, I can’t. But I recall tensions at Christmas time related to the traditions in our home. My dad always put up outside Christmas lights, but he never varied what he did. It was always exactly the same. Sometimes my mom would suggest a change. I think we changed the color of the light in the cupola once. Our tree was always very similar, though a couple of years we put it in a different room. I do recall when the mini lights arrived in stores, my dad liked them and wanted to give them a try. My mom was not pleased. One year we had a tree with a mixture of mini lights and the older larger lights. The older style lights meant something to my mother, perhaps something similar to my “line in the sand” regarding real trees.

People attach much meaning to rituals and traditions and no more so than at this time of the year. My parents continued to leave milk and cookies for Santa Claus for years beyond the time I was a child. Those rituals and traditions seem to take on added importance during times of change. And in today’s society, change is constant. Don’t be surprised if family members are crankier about family traditions this year. The last year has been full of change and it is the end of the decade.

I think it has become traditional and ritual for some to express outrage at what they see as the diminution of “Christmas” in both the public and commercial spheres. Lamenting the increasing commercialization of Christmas has been going on as long as I can remember. Nevertheless, there is no evidence whatsoever that the trend is abating. Indeed, the success of the commercialization of Christmas now seems critical to the health of our economy. And the commercialization of Christmas assures that anything controversial (like the greetings that shoppers receive when they enter the store, the music played on the intercom) will continue to move toward what the retailers think is the least offensive until a seasonal greeting and seasonal music is all but eliminated. Some would argue that point is already here.

Traditions and rituals connect generations and they demonstrate the importance of “our” values. My mother was a very complicated person. No one was particularly good at understanding why she did some things, including her. But I suspect that she kept that note I wrote so long ago because she saw it as validation of “our” values.

One of my family’s Christmas Eve traditions is changing this year. I haven’t written any passionate notes about it, but I am searching for some kind of compromise/alternative. My kids have suggested the change and I guess I am glad that they care about our Christmas Eve traditions. And I want to work with them, but I admit to feeling a bit sad, which surprises me. Sometimes we don’t realize how much “silly traditions” mean to us until someone suggests changing them. This year, indulge a family member who insists on a “silly tradition.”
Blog Directory - Blogged The Steiger Counter at Blogged