Time, Christmas Traditions and Memories

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What is it about Christmas that has us thumbing through old cookbooks searching for a particular recipe of Grandma’s? Why do we carefully unwrap ornaments that are old and dilapidated and take pleasure in displaying them in prominent locations on our decorated trees?

This little cross has been on every tree since I was born. And no, I’m not telling you how many years that’s been. At some point it moved from my parents’ home to ours, along with a few other treasures. I never knew what significance, if any, it had for them, but I cherish it.

Every family seems to have its own special traditions. A Facebook friend mentioned she’s making Polish stuffed cabbage … that it’s not Christmas without it. I make fruitcakes in November every year. When my mother was alive she made steamed carrot pudding and we always traded some so we each had both. It only happened at Christmas. Neither of us made those recipes at any other time of the year. I also remember every Christmas Eve the entire family gathered at my paternal grandparents’ home. We wouldn’t have dreamed of making other plans.

Christmas Eve 1953

There’s joy in these traditions and family celebrations, but when something happens to knock everything off kilter, their memories can make future Christmases a time of nostalgia and melancholy, even depression, as we recall with longing “how it use to be”.

We can turn the hands of our clocks backwards as much as we want, but there’s no way to turn back time in real life. I think that’s why time travel and historical fiction have such a wide appeal. As readers we can place ourselves into an earlier era, at least until we reach the last page.

I wonder if our families will recall this Christmas with fondness two or three decades from now. I wonder which of our traditions they will choose to continue or discard, and why. What makes traditions meaningful? As we approach the fourth Sunday in Advent, preparing ourselves for the celebration of Christ’s birth, what might we do to ensure the focus of our Christmas celebration stays on Him?

Do you have a favourite memory from a past Christmas? Why is it special to you?

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16 thoughts on “Time, Christmas Traditions and Memories

  1. Norma McGuire says:

    Great to see this photo , Carol Do you realize that only 9 of those in the picture are still with us? That includes you and me!

    1953 was not the special memory Christmas for me! Ra was 3, Danny 1 1/2, and Gary was 6 weeks old.

    • careann says:

      Yes, I noticed how many were missing when I posted this, but perhaps the up side is how many have been added to the family since then … even those three little ones of yours have made their own contributions to the next generation. :)

  2. Our family Christmases were so steeped in tradition and full of wondrous things that when I left home I suffered at Christmas time knowing that it would never again be repeated. I missed it, my brothers, my parents and my home so much. Even surrounded by another family that had me join in their traditions and celebrations couldn’t penetrate to remove the sorrow.

    Your post reminded me of that period in my life. When I married and had children of my own, I decided I would do Christmas differently every year so they could build their own traditions after they left home. My husband didn’t care about the season, so he willingly agreed. I was finally able to enjoy the deeper message of Christmas without the sorrow, and could enjoy the memories. My children now have different ways of celebrating, or not.

    God has dealt with my life richly (No, I’m not special … I trust God is forever creating within all of creation, freely) and that the peace and joy so many seek through tradition and celebration is a forerunner of what they will have always, and is with me much of the time, and can be found to overcome when I am troubled. No external celebration needed. But I do enjoy the music, and the memories, and the decorations when time & circumstance permit. Because music feeds me, the memories are bathed in love, and the decorations are pretty!

    So I wish all those who celebrate at this time of year, great peace, love and joy … and to those who are hurting, my hope is that the wounds will be bound by an awareness within of comfort and love from God. But sometimes we have to wait until we grow …

    Thanks for this post Careann.

    • careann says:

      There’s certainly something to be said for choosing your own way of celebrating, Marion. Dependence upon traditions from the past can stifle the joy of spontaneity and individuality, of discovering new things to enjoy alone and together with others.

      I don’t recall a lot from my childhood, although my memories of Christmases are happy ones. My side of the family celebrated a secular holiday while my hubby’s focused on the sacred aspects. What was important to us was that our children understand the true reason for the celebration of Christmas, and be able to balance the fun with the holiness, but also to know that what was started by Christ’s birth has an impact on our entire lives.

  3. Shari Green says:

    When I got married, I figured it was only fair that we blend our traditions. But… we pretty much follow mine. And when we had kids, we started a few of our very own traditions. But… we still just pretty much follow mine. I win!!! Er, I mean… the traditions I cherished throughout my childhood are still very meaningful to me. Thank you for that, Mom. :)

    • careann says:

      Your poor hubby, Shari. He didn’t stand a chance! LOL!

      I don’t think most parents anticipate our children will carry traditions forward, but in a desire to make Christmas activities meaningful to them we just seem to involve them in the ones that are most meaningful to us, melding them with new ones we develop through the years. What we tend to remember most as we reminisce is the camaraderie of doing things together, more than the activity itself.

  4. Love these thoughts and LOVE the photo, Carol. Thank you for this.

    • careann says:

      Thanks, Diana. It was fun discovering this photo all over again, although, as Norma says above, it’s a little disconcerting to realize how many of the family are no longer with us. Then again, there are new generations that have arrived. The circle of life! :)

  5. youngmin park says:

    When we read your memory here, it reminds me of my memory of christmas long before.

    Yes, right. A writer like you has some kind of duty returning us to past years, remembering things related to christmas.

    There is nothing missed in there. Our parent loving me.

    Thanks a lot, Careann!

  6. joylene says:

    The photograph brings back so many memories. If I squint, that baby is me, and the woman in the bottom left side is my mother. There isn’t enough space here to mention all the traditions I experienced as a child. I think the best part was listening to my mother’s stories. Like her never having tasted a turkey until she was 21. Prior to that they ate rabbit because they were wild. Or the fact they sat around the radio because there was no TV.

    My fondness memories were getting dressed up to attend high mass Christmas Eve. The fun we had in the parking lot afterwards while my dad pulled everyone out of the snow. Arriving home to opening one present, Mum’s choice. Strangely, they were always pjs. How’d she know!

    Then climbing into bed with my sister, brother and cousins so my aunt could read from the Bible the story of the first Christmas.

    Yes, I would love to hear what my sons’ impressions are of their favourite traditions. I’m generally so busy at Christmas I never think to ask. This year I will.

    God Bless, Carol. Merry Christmas.

    • careann says:

      That’s me in the centre back with a younger cousin on my lap, and my parents are the only two who aren’t looking at the camera. When we were at our son’s at Thanksgiving and taking multi-generational photos with the new great-grandbaby I was remembering how often we’ve taken photos at family gatherings and never managed to get everyone looking “just right”.

      My parents never told many stories, but the grandparents in this photo did. My grandfather was a great teller of Irish stories … kept us kids mesmerized many an evening.

      Merry Christmas to you, too.

  7. Katt says:

    I love this picture Carol. Aren’t memories great? I miss my grandparents the most at Christmas time. Each of them spent so much time preparing for her “favorite” time of the year. When family came home, opened presents, and ate until we couldn’t move. I remember the laughter…and all those special hugs from everyone.
    Merry Christmas to you my precious friend.
    Katt

    • careann says:

      At Christmastime I particularly remember the two grandparents in this photo because they both died in mid-December on two consecutive years. The other side of our family didn’t tend to get together as much, but my parents and I always had Christmas Day dinner with those grandparents. Family is so precious, but too often we take them for granted until suddenly they’re no longer with us.

      Blessings to you and yours, Katt.

  8. Darlene says:

    I don’t know how I missed this post in the midst of Christmas preparations but I love it. The family picture could have just as easily come out of our family album. We always had big family get togethers at my grandmother’s house. Wonderful memories to be sure. Those of us with large ,close famiiies are indeed blessed.

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