Lately, I’ve come back to my musings on what exactly makes a holiday story a holiday story. It’s not just the date, that much I know for certain.
In an effort to try to figure it out, I’ve been considering my own feelings, expectations, and traditions. I know this is not everyone’s experience, but it’s mine, and it’s what I understand.
The Kiels family celebrates Christmas. My husband’s family has several very set traditions. Whereas my family’s only tradition is the lack of tradition–no that’s wrong.
My family has had a fake Christmas tree since the year my first brother was born. I can’t blame my parents. Real trees have their complications. And they’re expensive. Every year my dad would drag the tree from the garage. For many years dad and I would assemble the tree. Then it was just me. Like it was a chore, and it would be Evie’s chore. That’s okay, I like putting up the tree. And just because I’m 5 ft tall doesn’t mean I can’t figure some way to string lights on an 8 foot tree.
I feel guilty for complaining. I wish my dad helped. I wish I didn’t feel like the tree duty was dumped on me. But he didn’t and it was. So I took care of it. Good or bad, it’s was part of my Christmas. Every year. But here’s the thing. I do like putting up the Christmas tree. I love transforming the big green tree into a multicolored, lit, sparkly green tree. I love rediscovering my favorite ornaments that I seem to forget about every year. The ornaments are a constant over the years, and as a result the tree is a big tree of nostalgia.
My husband’s family gets real trees. They prefer “Charlie Brown” trees because they want to put up every ornament their three children have ever made. Putting up the tree was a family affair. They’d go to the tree obtaining place, find the perfect tree, have it cut and wrapped, drive it home, let it bush out. My husband has a love-hate relationship with this process because they have to get, seriously, every ornament he and his brothers ever made. As well as his grandmother’s ornaments. And a few of his great grandmother’s. And then there’s the tinsel. I love it. Putting up the tree is like reading the story of their family. And it’s social. The in-laws put on holiday music and it’s fun.
My family is very laid back. We used to visit my grandparents on Christmas Eve for a family Dinner and family gifts. That stopped when my grandfather got sick. He passed away several years ago. I’m not sure there’s a tradition there any more. They just play it by ear, whether there will be dinner or not.
On Christmas morning, Dad makes cinnamon rolls and coffee. We eat the cinnamon rolls while figuring out who gets to distribute gifts. The dog gets his gift first. Somehow he knows which is his, and he just rips into it. If my dog is visiting he opens her gift too because she just doesn’t get it.
We open gifts and then spend the rest of the day lazing. Dad has started making the omg best rib roast ever for Christmas dinner. And that’s it.
My husband’s family, Christmas last 4 days. I kid you not. Three days before Chrismas there is smorgasbord. A menu is planned. There are traditional items. My favorite? Swedish meatballs and saffron bread. There are traditional cookies. It is a day of cooking. At least. And there is glogg. The day before Christmas they have a white dinner. And I’ve only been with them on Christmas day once… I don’t remember what happens. I do remember rice pudding. And leftovers the next day. Whew!
Between you and me, I prefer a mix of the two. If I could, I’d do smorgasbord with the in-laws and Christmas with my family. I suppose I’m biased to that.
The husband and I are slowly creating our own traditions. We buy a real tree. I bought a Charlie Brown tree this year. I’m quite pleased with how it turned out. Unfortunately my husband was not in town when I bought and decorated it, but that’s the way our Christmas schedule worked out. Either I did it myself last week or no tree. I opted for tree. I rediscovered some favorite ornaments–always fun. The dog made her obligatory pose under the tree for the camera. We had a small gathering last year for a mini smorgasbord. I hope to repeat that this year. We try to visit family. This year we will attempt to go to Ohio to see my family if the roads are clear. As you can tell, the traditions with my husband are tenuous and not set. Maybe if we have kids that will change. Who knows.
That’s what Christmas is to me. It’s family, how the personalities of our family combine to bring about Christmas.
There are other factors. The incessant Christmas music everywhere. The beautiful lights that the cities put up. The sales. Omg the sales. The men in department stores seem to be dressed extra spiffy around the holidays. Last year they were particularly dapper in vests over button downs. People outside, though obviously freezing, seem to have an extra bounce in their step, twinkle in their eye, puff in their scarf.
I love how stores and restaurants decorate with pretty lights, garland, and ornaments. I love the classic Christmas movies, too. Their tales of redemption and hope and goodness and met potential.
It’s more than just a date. There’s this undefinable thing in the air that’s just a little more wonderful. That’s Christmas. It’s this underlying thread of happiness that runs through everything.
But how do you capture that in a story? I don’t know. But there must be more than just the date and some snow.