That would be my siblings, my dad and me, circa late ’60s, early ’70s. I’m the stylish one with the sweet hat and suit. Check it out close-up:
Why am I posting these? For one, I could tell from the lights on the balcony and the snow on the ground that these were taken around Christmastime. The other reason is that I am chock full of nostalgia lately, which is normal for the holiday season.
This year I find myself drifting back to memories of my childhood more than usual. Those pictures were taken more than 50 years ago. FIFTY. That is a stinkin’ long time. From the looks of it, they were both taken with my dad’s Polaroid Instamatic – the kind where you wait for them to develop and peel the backing off to reveal the photo. (No, you don’t have to shake it – sorry, Outkast.) I’m guessing my mom took the pictures. Imagine that, a mom declining to be in a picture!
It has also been around 20 years since I have celebrated Christmas with either of my parents. Mom passed in 1999, Dad followed three years later. That is also a long time. Nowadays, Chrissie and I are firmly ensconced in the grandparent roles, with seven little ones sharing the magic of Christmas with us. Amazingly, all of our family will be here together this year. Considering most of them live out of state, between work, school, in-laws, travel and health, coming together is a minor miracle in and of itself.
The other thing that has me nostalgic and perusing my mom’s old photo albums is that the novella I recently released is a story about a bunch of 10 year-old kids, set in 1973. Yes, some of it is autobiographical. (I’m thinking I’ll have a contest to let readers try and guess what really happened, and what is fiction.) It was a cool experience wading back into my childhood to see what I could remember.
When I dwell in nostalgia, I usually come away with the same thing: I feel blessed. I feel blessed that I was raised where I was, when I was. I feel blessed that I was raised by two parents who loved each other. I had siblings who loved me and I loved them – even when we were driving each other nuts. I am especially grateful that I was raised with a core belief and understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which I still carry this day. I am acutely aware of how blessed I was/am.
My family (now and then) is heavy into Christmas traditions: activities, food, deserts, get togethers, gift-giving, music, etc. Our Christmas Eve dinner is essentially the same as it was when I was the kid in those photos. (But, mercifully, somewhere along the way we jettisoned the three-bean salad. Shudder.)
As our kids have become parents with kids of their own, some of the long-standing traditions evolve. Some change, some stay the same. It is always interesting to see which traditions are important to which people, and which they aren’t enamored by. Everybody is different. The change is inevitable, often necessary, overdue and sometimes a bit painful. I know the day is coming soon where our kids will want to stay in their own homes with their little ones for Christmas and we will be the ones traveling to be with them. I get it. Yes, it makes me feel old, but I get it.
I tend to be a creature of habit and change does not come easily to me. Some would just say that is me being old and curmudgeonly. While that may be partially true, I think it goes deeper than that. (The need for traditions, not the curmudgeonliness.)
In traditions we find a sense of continuity that strengthens and binds us together. While Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof might be construed as refusing to adapt to the times, his attitude towards tradition pre-dates what sociologists are now proving: Established traditions create strong families across generations. (Here is an article to support that claim, here.)
Elder L. Tom Perry said, “The Lord has not been so explicit in providing us religious customs along the order of feasts and festivals to remind us of the blessings we receive from Him today. However, the practice of having traditions to keep us close to the great heritage which is ours to enjoy should be something every family should try to keep alive.”(Link)
Our family traditions do remind us of our heritage and of those who have left us. They provide a sense of continuity in an ever-changing world. Does it matter that the last thing we do at our family Christmas Eve get together every year is to read Luke 2? Yes, yes it does. Does it matter that we eat cinnamon streusel cake on Christmas morning? Yes, but not as much.
Even Paul taught the saints in Thessalonica to “stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught.” (link)
Research is showing that family unity, individual happiness and emotional health are are boosted by having family traditions.(link) Pick some good ones, and stick with them. There are so many things that Chrissie and I do in our family that come directly from the traditions we experienced as kids. Those traditions make us feel closer to our departed family members, which adds to the depth of emotion that the holidays bring.
Not every tradition is fabulous – some are kinda lame. Brandon Sanderson said, “But merely being tradition does not make something worthy, Kadash. We can’t just assume that because something is old it is right.” We don’t cling to every single tradition that has been passed down to us, be we do hold onto many. I know there are some out there that are eager to jettison old family traditions in order to replace them with newer, trendier ideas. And of course, they are entitled to do what they want.
But, it is worth taking a hard, thoughtful look at the traditions that we grew up with, and those that have come since, as we decide what to keep and what to cast off. Some of those “old, hokey traditions” helped to make us who we are, and help us to feel after those who have gone before. I feel closest to my parents during the holidays, in part because we share traditions that outlived them, and will probably outlive me.
Christmas is wrapped up in my family – and my family was here long before I was, and will be here long after I’m gone. I like that.