Something has been gnawing at me this holiday season. I just don’t feel very celebratory. I know there are many factors contributing to this, including my employment situation and the outcome of the election.
But over the past few days, I’ve put a lot of thought into why things don’t completely add up at this time of year. And during the drive up to Connecticut, I discussed my dilemma with sprite, and I figured out a big part of why Christmas simply hasn’t felt right for the past many, many years: It’s because my own holiday traditions haven’t been part of the season for far too long.
Growing up in a small family with a variety of traditions meant that there wasn’t the typical family get-together on the 24th or 25th of December. We celebrated St. Nicholas’ Day on December 6th (a nod to my dad’s heritage) and did a gift exchange and celebration on Three Kings’ Day (i.e. Russian Orthodox Christmas, a nod to my mom’s heritage) on January 6th. We did celebrate on the 25th as well, typically putting up our tree on the 24th (when you buy from a tree lot and you want the tree to last until January 6th, you wait until the last minute to keep the needles intact). There were presents on Christmas Day, and my grandmother would often come over, but it wasn’t a big “focus” day for the season.
Once I was a teenager, the thing I did more often than not was go skiing on Christmas morning. Let’s face it: if it snowed on Christmas Eve, the powder in the Wasatch was one of the best presents you could get for Christmas, and the the local resorts were seldom crowded.
But the big thing that did happen on December 25th was having our family of friends over for a celebratory holiday dinner. My parents both being immigrants, the extended family was made up of fellow immigrant expats. You heard the accents from Slavic languages, German, Dutch, Danish, and French. There were a few kids my age, as well, and we kept ourselves occupied while my parents and their friends wined and dined. The food was great. The company was friendly and jovial.
Since my parents’ divorce and my move to the east coast over 20 years ago, this tradition fell by the wayside. My mom doesn’t get together with her expat friends as much these days, due to the combined effects of age and growing apart from some of the group (who now travel to where their kids – my peers – have gone). My dad now lives on the west coast and celebrates a low-key, stay-at-home Christmas with his partner. And I celebrate with sprite’s family in New England.
And while I love the New England gathering and celebration – sprite’s family has welcomed me into the fold, parts of it are quite enjoyable, and I’m grateful to be part of their tradition – it’s not quite the same. Their Christmas is not the one I grew up with, that is mine. There’s a hole in my holidays that needs to be filled.
I see my close friends as my extended family, much as my parents saw their expat friends in a similar light, and I miss having a holiday gathering like I had growing up. We have a tree trimming party each December, but it’s more of an open house style party: great for seeing a big group of friends, but not really the same thing as before. I’m always milling about, serving food and drink, and it’s a tradition for sprite and me, but it doesn’t quite fill in the missing piece of the puzzle.
I see an inkling of what I’d like in the relatively new trend toward “Friendsgiving,” where friends gather to celebrate the harvest shortly before the more typical Thanksgiving family gathering. This idea clicks with me because, to be frank, my friends are as much family as anybody. This hearkens back to the Christmas celebrations of my youth and makes perfect sense.
So perhaps this holiday season I will try to rekindle a long dormant family tradition. I realize it can’t happen on the 25th, as my friends are scattered about the country for their family celebrations. So perhaps sometime around Three Kings’ Day a gathering can occur. Or maybe it’ll be just a mid-winter gathering to start out, given time constraints and the fact that TKD falls on a Friday this year and I have to be up for ski coaching work early the next morning.
I guess what I’ve realized is that traditions matter, if only for a sense of personal place and purpose. And while some can and should pass on, some deserve to be held near and dear. I know you can’t go back to what was, but bringing part of that back to the fore may be the necessary re-centering I need around the year-end holidays.
From me to you: happy holidays.
(Special thanks to Nick C. for some editorial advice – cheers!)