Change a family tradition? You’ve got to be kidding. Wouldn’t it be easier to swim a snake-infested river? Climb an icy crag during a blizzard? Fly without an airplane? Adjusting a tradition that has been in a family for years sounds next to impossible, at least until the first crash.
That crash happened in our home this week, and I can feel the cold winds of change.
It wasn’t wind that blew our tree down, however. I think it was an instability of the trunk that caused the toppling of our 11-foot balsam. Water, pine needles, and shattered glass ornaments flew throughout our main living area. Of course, this happened on an evening when my husband and I were already tired. We couldn’t get it back up without calling in reinforcements, learning during the process that the branches had become entangled in the stair railing, which had hindered our earlier attempts of righting an oh-so-wrong. Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la.
I’ve insisted on a tree like this for many years as three generations of our family schlep through the tree farm: “It has to be high enough for the angel topper’s halo to skim the ceiling!” Those words echo as I find the angel amidst the muck of the aftermath. I also recall the six hours it took family members to light and adorn the tree as I pick up shards of ornaments we have had since our very first Christmas, 1979 B.C. (Before Children). Deck the halls with boughs of holly.
My husband thanked me for not getting emotional, i.e. crying, while we worked to clean up and throw away the broken treasures amidst the mess and the memories. I wondered if I was just too tired to cry. The first couple rounds of cleaning, decorating, baking, shopping, cooking were done, after all. My nerves were steeled for the remainder of my holiday must-do list. Adding a re-decorating of the tree and “clean up in aisle one!” wasn’t exactly trauma-inducing. Tis the season to be jolly.
I spoke with a friend recently whose family is in the midst of some drama of their own: when to celebrate Christmas. One segment of the family insists that Christmas isn’t Christmas if you don’t celebrate on the day they always have. But when your family has many branches, which segment do you choose to celebrate with on that perceived magical day? Those boughs are what make up the family tree. Right? Heedless of the wind and weather.
When the tree initially tipped over, my husband noted it was the first time our daughter’s 6’3” boyfriend had placed the angel at the top of our shrine. Surely, he jested, it was the newbie’s faulty placement that tipped the balance. (That newcomer is also the reason we are not putting up the mistletoe this year. The breaking of yet another household practice!)
Dr. Susan Coady of Ohio State University writes that family traditions are often what gives family strength. There is comfort in a predictable activity. Hear me: traditions are good! But when the tradition becomes too heavy to carry (or lift), it’s time to consider a change.
English statesman Oliver Cromwell preached against “the heathen traditions” of Christmas trees and any expression that desecrated the “sacred event” of Christmas.
Matthew, in the first gospel, writes: “So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God.” (Matthew 15:6b)
Christmas will still be Christmas even though, some years, we don’t have an angel-skimming-fresh-cut-fir in our dining room. We can still celebrate on December 26 or 27 rather than December 25. Truly, we can. What we shouldn’t leave out is the hope of Christmas. The Christ child was born!
That snake-infested river? The wildlife biologists tell us to swim right down the middle. The snakes will leave you alone. (So they say!) Climbing that mountain? Experts have lists of gear (and experience!) to recommend. And we can fly without a plane if we’re in a hot air balloon. Hail the new ye lads and lasses.
See? Changing family traditions, at first read, may sound almost impossible. But before we put our hands to the change, we have to believe it’s possible in our hearts. Sing we joyous, all together. Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la.