For most people, holiday seasons bring with them warm memories from years past. Traditions are the stuff those memories are built on, and each family has its own special tradition that comes either from the long ago past or has been built in just one or two generations. The number of years a tradition has existed doesn’t matter. A tradition’s uniqueness comes from the love and sharing that has gone into its creation. Traditions can be built around any holiday, be it Halloween, Thanksgiving, Memorial Day or Fourth of July. But most families are fondest of those surrounding Christmas.
Important Christmas traditions bring a sense of continuity to family members whether they are living in the same town or hundreds of miles away. Brothers and sisters know exactly what their siblings are doing to celebrate the season. Cousins know just the right greeting to send one another. Aunts and uncles understand what is important to their nieces and nephews. Traditions span distance and generations.
Many holiday traditions have come from immigrants who brought their special observances with them. Many of those, like the Christmas tree, have become a part of almost every family’s Christmas celebration, thanks to the German immigrants who brought the tradition with them to their new land. Yule logs grace many homes, stockings to be filled with treats hang on fireplaces, and nativity scenes hold a special place of honor.
Some of the most cherished traditions have been created in this country by writers like Clement C. Moore who penned “Twas The Night Before Christmas”.
He is responsible for creating the reindeer and the jolly St. Nicholas who came down the chimney. Thomas Nast, one of the first true political cartoonists, is basically the man responsible for the American image of Santa Claus. And who doesn’t know about Francis P. Church’s reply in the New York Sun to Virginia O’Hanlon’s question ‘is there really a Santa Claus. Christmas carols written many years ago remind us of the Star, the Wise Men and the Shepherds who journeyed to see the newborn child. From these stories, drawings and music were born the traditions held dear by so many of us, but some families have gone on to develop very special traditions that are theirs to share with one another. Lest we forget, Charles Dickens’ story of Scrooge and Tiny Tim added words to the English vocabulary. Everyone understands what a Scrooge is and everyone understands that Tiny Tim is the symbol of love and hope. But these aren’t the only traditions of importance.
We recently learned of one that has become a part of a family’s Thanksgiving celebration, but it is one that could easily become a Christmas tradition. The family purchases one of our rustic signs, has everyone sign the back of it, dates the sign, and then gives it to one member of the family as a keepsake. What a great new tradition. Every family could do something similar, and it doesn’t need to be a sign. It is the idea that is important. Finding some “gift” that symbolizes the holiday and sharing in that “gift” is a heartwarming way to give special meaning to family gatherings. Every time the recipient looks at that keepsake, it becomes a reminder of loved ones sharing the holidays. At Christmas, it could be a little like finding the pickle on the Christmas tree and receiving a special memento, an old tradition that made a comeback in the 1990s.
Another family we know collects money on Thanksgiving, then uses the money to help a family in need at Christmas. One holiday activity leads to another, giving special meaning to both. They share the tradition of giving with one another, and each year a different member of the family decides who or what will be the recipient of their joint gift. The giving and the decision-making extend to the youngest members of the family. Everyone participates equally, and the children learn to actively become a part of the family’s belief in sharing the season with those less fortunate than themselves. Other families bake cookies together, sing carols together or trim the tree together.
A tradition’s age or origin isn’t the important element. The sharing and caring that become a part of it are what memories are built upon. Make this the year that a new family tradition is born or an old one is resurrected. Handed down from generation to generation, traditions form an unbroken link within families, countries and cultures. Traditions become part of the ties that bind us all together. What an important role simple tradition plays in all our lives.
Patricia Stelzer, Springfield, Ohio USA
Copyright 2003, Patricia Stelzer. All rights reserved.