post- editors discuss traditions
As the holiday season approaches, we the Post- editors bring you our thoughts on traditions—any noteworthy traditions we and our families and friends might keep, how we feel about them, and the roles they play in our lives. Here’s to a festive and restful holiday season, and we’ll see you in 2016! —Monica Chin, Managing Editor of Features
I got asked recently by a well-meaning (but very befuddled) online friend what the fuck I actually celebrate. I am, after all, Jewish, and I can understand that my blog’s explosion of candy canes and peppermint and pine might be a little confusing.
I see it like this: I celebrate religious Chanukah and secular Christmas. For those eight nights every December, I light the candles, say the prayers—but, I also love Christmas movies. And peppermint hot chocolate, and ugly sweaters, and pine trees lining the dirty New York streets, littering the litter with little spikes of green. And I know to some extent this is cultural appropriation (can you appropriate something that even those meant to celebrate it have appropriated? That’s a question I’m working on), but I can’t help loving it.
Maybe it’s coming from a dysfunctional family that’s primed my holiday spirit for the escapism of Will Ferrell soaring above a cheering Central Park, or the romance of Colin Firth learning another language to propose to the woman he loves, or the simple goodwill of Meg Ryan hanging ornaments and remembering the mother she misses; or maybe I’m just a disillusioned millennial looking for something to believe in. Whatever it is, I’m too jolly to question it. So jingle bell me up, motherfucker; Santa’s coming whether you like it or not. —MF
My holidays are subnormally tradition-filled. We put up a tree, we go to a roast-beef-and-champagne Christmas Eve dinner, we open a single midnight present. Increasingly, we’ve stopped waking up for early morning Christmas mass. Before college, we would fly to Baltimore and drive three hours north on December 26th to visit my paternal grandmother in Pennsylvania; three days later, we would fly to Denver to see my mother’s family. As we’ve let these traditions lapse after my move to Providence, my winter break has devolved into the tradition of doing whatever I want, typically Netflix, lying around with my cats, and occasionally grabbing a meal or two with high school friends.
This is either my parents’ last or second-to-last Christmas in the house I grew up in, depending on when they finally decide to retire and begin the months-long process of boxing up the accumulated piles of lives lived. With that will come my last Christmas in Houston and all the things that come with it: drives on the concentric loops of freeway, nostalgic lunches at La Madeleine and hole-in-the-wall Mexican places, the neighbors and friends I’ve taken for granted. Though some of my favorite traditions will surely prove portable, I’m expecting to spend a little more time off the couch experiencing that this December.
My boyfriend’s also visiting my hometown for the first time (or will be if he gets his shit together and picks flights). Instead of visiting my favorite restaurants, I have to show them off. Instead of taking copious naps, I need to schedule Activities and Experiences to prove that Houston has something going for it. Somehow I don’t think NASA is going to be as exciting to 22-year-old him as it was to 12-year-old me. But hopefully this break will be both a satisfying ending to old traditions and maybe the start to a few new ones. —LS
My mom is from Rhode Island, so I’ve spent part of Christmas here ever since I was little. We used to celebrate Christmas at home and then drive up to Woonsocket on December 26th, allowing us to see faraway relatives but meaning we missed the whole family Christmas celebration. One year, my brother and I woke up Christmas Eve morning and found a sign taped to the banister outside our rooms, saying that Santa had come early. Thrilled (who knew Santa had such a flexible schedule?), we rushed downstairs and opened our presents, then piled in the car and made the six-hour trek to my grandparents’ house in time for Christmas Eve festivities and to celebrate with the rest of the family in Massachusetts on Christmas Day.
Over time, we’ve got this tradition down to a science. Now we have our Christmas celebration on December 23rd, making it an entire day of festivities and leisure: opening presents in the morning and then enjoying them—and each other’s company—for the rest of the day. (One highlight: the year we got Rock Band and my mom, brother, and I made a band and played it all day.) Then we drive up to Rhode Island on Christmas Eve and spend the whole evening and Christmas Day with various groupings of relatives. This summer we sold my grandparents’ house (my mom’s childhood home), which means for the first time we won’t be gathering there on Christmas Eve. It’s going to be strange, but we’ll adapt, because sometimes traditions have to change. After all, my family actually changed the date of our Christmas, and it’s my favorite tradition we’ve ever had. —AA
My parents are holiday tradition people. Every year since before I can remember, around the advent of December, they’ve loaded us all up into their van, hauled us and our angsty teenaged demeanors to Angevine Tree Farm, and strolled between row upon row of identical Christmas trees, weighing meticulously the pros and cons of each specimen before finally settling on one, seemingly (to me, at least) at random. Every year I dutifully take it upon myself to point out the existence of the plastic Christmas trees that are sold at Target, and the overwhelming comparative ease with which we could obtain these trees. My parents have always laughed incredulously at this suggestion. “It’s a tradition,” they always respond. “It’s a family tradition.”
I’m one of those disgruntled 20-somethings who is cynical when it comes to imbuing abstract concepts with concrete value. The concept of tradition, and the way in which it seems to inevitably impede practicality, has always rubbed me the wrong way. Curricular innovations at my high school were shut down in the planning process because they wouldn’t fit with our “traditional” schedule. The debate that inevitably seems to come up around policy decisions, as one between progress and tradition, has always frustrated me to no end, given that it’s difficult for me to fathom how one factor could even come close to outweighing the other. It’s hard for me to keep the holiday season, a period of time when you can’t take two steps without trampling someone’s beloved traditions, from being a month-long eye-roll-fest. When I grow up, I have resolved, I will buy a plastic Christmas tree and burden it with minimal decorations. Presents will be from me, not from a fictional elderly man. I will only drag my children to church if they decide for themselves to be Christians. I will allow my Christmas celebrations to adapt the way that other things adapt–open-mindedly, shaped by the times and circumstances and the preferences of my family.
And yet, somehow, I have managed. Every year, my parents load our ancient CD player with various archives of Christmas music and pile over 100 ornaments from various cities and countries onto the poor tree’s branches. I often feel an urge to point out that with so many accoutrements heaped atop it, the tree will surely topple over. But when I see genuine smiles lighting up my parents’ faces, hear rare relaxed laughs as they relate memories (“Wow, I forgot about this one. Remember that stall in Chennai where we bought it? That must have been 20 years ago now…”), I can’t bring myself to. Instead I sit back on the couch, smile, and wait for the inevitable. —MC
When I think of “the holidays” I think of family. There is no single outstanding tradition that we effectively uphold each year. We definitely eat turkey, cranberry sauce, and mashed potatoes every Thanksgiving. Sometime in the days leading up to the 25th, we decorate the Christmas tree with some array of ornaments collected over the years. New Year’s morning has occasionally been punctuated by a road race. Of these changing and changeable traditions, I find that my family always finds a way to spend time with one another. Whether we’re traveling as group or passing a virtual FaceTime-face around the table at Thanksgiving, the value of—and determination sometimes involved in achieving—together-ness is a reliable constant. —CS
The thing about Chanukah is that its date floats, so celebrations by nature change from year to year. Even before college, one year it could be over winter break with candles and presents and dreidel after dinner and a Chanukah party over the weekend, and another year my sister and I could be in school with midterms all week, and another year we could be with relatives or traveling. My freshman year of college I was at Brown for the whole holiday, and my sophomore year it was over Thanksgiving. One year of middle school, it overlapped with my mom’s birthday.
So our main winter tradition isn’t really tied to holidays at all. Every other year, we go skiing. My parents are both from the Northeast, and my immediate family lived in Wyoming when I was really young, so despite North Carolina’s relatively balmy Decembers, we’ve got snow in our blood (Or something). We always go to the same place in Colorado, Steamboat Springs. Even though I’m only there for four or five days every two years, it feels like a home away from home. I know the lodges and the downtown and even the map of the mountain—to the greatest degree that someone with a sense of direction as bad as mine can know a map. My sister and I get our favorite curly fries at lunch and in the evening, our gloves and masks drying on the radiator, we sit on the same couch in the same hotel in front of the same fire and read. Well, obviously not the same fire. That’s impossible.
We leave two days after I get home, three days after my last final. I can’t wait. – AM