Tag Archives: family

Tradition, Tradition!

I wrote yesterday about my family’s traditional “Christmas is in two or three days so we should probably get a tree” outing.  We have some other traditions as well that personally make Christmas Eve a bigger deal to me than Christmas.

For starters, there’s the tree.  I remember when I was young I would wake up and go downstairs on Christmas Eve morning to find my mom working on getting the tree standing and secure.  By early afternoon she already had the lights on, and my sister and I would begin hanging ornaments on it not long after that.  Nowadays, things seem to get started later, and it’s often not until well after dinner that we decorate it; today, however, things got started early and there are already lights and ornaments and even some tinsel on the tree.

Speaking of dinner, the traditional Italian Christmas Eve dinner of the “seven fishes” is another thing that we kinda, sorta do.  We always eat seafood, but not usually any actual fish; nor are there seven of them.  We have crab cakes, along with shrimp and clam chowder.  This year, we added tuna for my dad and scallops for…well, everyone, but at my persuasive insistence.  That makes five pseudo-fishes; next year, I’m aiming to add two more.

This year’s dinner was a little more stressful for me than usual.  Instead of picking up the food we ordered from the seafood shop,* I’ll be in the kitchen making the crab cakes.  I had made them a couple times earlier in the year and people liked them, so I offered.  They turned out reasonably well, so that made me happy.  Well, relieved more than anything.  I did NOT want to ruin Christmas Eve dinner.

*Tangent: my mom always orders it for a 4:45 p.m. pickup.  The store closes at 5:00.  This often makes for a ridiculously unnecessary race against the clock to make sure we get there before they close.

We always visit my grandfather on Christmas Eve.  Usually it’s at night, after dinner, but today I pushed for an early afternoon visit.  See, my sister and I used to give our parents their presents on Christmas Eve, and I wanted to get back to that this year.  My hope was that the whole family would do it, because our gift exchange has gotten later and later over the past few years.  I figured this was as good a time as any to corral that bronco and walk it back to the stable.  It was a half-success; we gave our parents and our aunt their gifts, but my mother hasn’t wrapped ours.  I’m sure we’ll get them by Memorial Day.

As if there was room for any more traditions, I’ve started taking an annual trip to the bookstore.  It started out a few years ago when I was looking for a last-minute gift for my dad.  I ended up walking out with a book for him and three for me.  Now, it’s usually just the last place I go when I have last-minute shopping to do, and I almost always leave with at least three or four books that I then proceed to blow through over the next two months.  I don’t read that often anymore, but when I do, it’s at a prolific pace.

This year, however, the bookstore trip was a one-off journey.  My shopping was finished, so it was simply a run-of-the-mill Tuesday afternoon book binge.  It did, however, serve the alternate purpose that made the previous trips so cherished: it always allows me the opportunity to get away from the family for a little bit.  I know, the holidays are about spending time with each other, but when you have hectic days such as Christmas Eve, you sometimes need to make sure you get the right dosage.

I’m a creature of habit and routine.  I feel like tradition falls under that umbrella, so it’s something I’ve been very adamant about over the years.  If I have my own family someday, and my wife and kids want to put up the Christmas tree a little early, I might cave.  If I have to miss Christmas Eve dinner because we’re out of town visiting her family, I won’t be happy, about it, but sometimes you have to make compromises.

Just make sure there’s a Barnes & Noble nearby.  Daddy needs to go shopping.


Thy Leaves Are So Unchanging

One of my family’s rather unique traditions is that we have always put our Christmas tree up on Christmas Eve.  This may not be all that unique – to hear my mother tell it, back in the old days everyone used to do it – but I also don’t know anyone else who does it.  The whole Christmas tree thing is really important to my mom, so I don’t question it.

Doing it so late allows us to wait to pick out a tree in the first place.  This is not conducive to having a wide selection of trees, but hey, it was nice back when I was in college because I could still go with the family to pick it out.  My sister lives in Boston, so the trip now gets put on hold until she gets home.

The three of us usually go out without my dad, because it’s not something he ever really concerned himself with; his family always had an artificial tree and put it up much earlier, so it wasn’t a big deal to him.  However, with him being in and out of the hospital three times in the last two-plus months, and twice in December, he’s been doing a whole lot of nothing all day, and I told him he was coming this year.

My sister arrived the other morning, as I already wrote about.  We had planned to go tree shopping yesterday, but I refused to do so when it was 68 degrees and raining.  There was literally no way I was going to buy a Christmas tree in early May-type weather.

It was a little colder today, but still raining, so we pushed the trip back as long as we could.  We finally had to bite the bullet and go; my mom had to be at work at 4:00, so it was now or never, raining or not.

Now, lots of families have hot-button topics or sore subjects that always lead to screaming and yelling.  Sometimes it’s that someone doesn’t like someone else’s spouse.  Sometimes there’s a relative’s arrest or a history of alcohol and drug abuse that ruins the atmosphere as soon as it comes up.  For my family, it’s Christmas tree shopping.

It boils down to a simple fact: every year, I walk around the lot(s) and identify suitable Christmas trees.  My sister, on the other hand, identifies Christmas bushes.  I’m right around six feet tall, and I always pick trees taller than me.  She has never once in her life picked out a tree taller than her; considering she currently stands at a little over five feet tall and stopped growing like 12 years ago, this is a problem.

A Christmas tree is supposed to be, among other things, majestic.  In your entire life, have you ever walked around a garden and thought, “my, what a majestic shrub?”  No, you haven’t.  My sister sucks at picking out trees.

I think it stretches back to when we were super young and the biggest fight was over who got to put the star on top of the tree.  I don’t ever recall doing it, and I feel like my mother always did it, but I do know it used to make my sister upset when she didn’t do it.  My best guess is that she got it into her head that if the tree was small, like her, she could put the star on it and reach the upper branches when hanging lights and ornaments on it.  Ever since the invention of the step-stool back in like 1594 (don’t quote me on that), however, this has been a stupid reason to pick a tree.

Every year she goes right to a four-foot high shrub, and immediately I begin mocking both her and the “tree.”  You’d think she would know by now, but she never learns.  She also never gets her tree picked, but at the same time, neither do I.  I’m always told that my choices are too tall, or the wrong kind, or some other nonsense my mother makes up to keep me from being able to gloat.

Well, this year, I came prepared.  I found a good tree that I liked, and presented it to the family.  I immediately pointed out that while it looked too tall now, we could cut six inches off the bottom, where there were no branches anyway, and maybe pare down a couple of the branches at the top to make sure they didn’t scrap the ceiling and left room for the star.

Maybe it was the quality of the tree.  Maybe it was the unassailable logic.  Maybe it was the rain.  Regardless, we drove away not long after with the tree tied to the roof of my car.  I won.

It might seem like small potatoes, and it might sound incredibly stupid.  It is, and it is.  But at the same time, we’ll actually have a Christmas tree, with actual room underneath for gifts and decorations.  You just don’t have that with a Christmas bush.

That makes us all winners, really.