Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Christmas Traditions - Stray Taoist

As you have seen this week I have been asking some of my favourite bloggers to talk about Christmas Traditions in their house and today we haves a post from Stray Taoist, someone whose blog I have read for several years and always makes me feel more intelligent for having done so. Without further a do I shall hand you over to him with a quick introduction...

I often get asked what do you do?, to which I reply "I am a father, a husband, a brother, a son. I am a writer, a poet, a reader and a speaker. I am a fighter, a lover, a runner and a sham. I am a physicist, an engineer, a photographer, a classicist, a theologian, a philosopher, a musician and a cheat. I am a political animal, a storyteller, a disrupter and the one your mother warned you about. Why, what do you do?" To which the reply is invariably 'No, I meant what do you do for a living', which is a strange question to me, as I do lots of things to keep me living. And I certainly am not defined by how I spend part of my day getting cash to fund what I do...

All that stands before

We all remember the Christmases of our childhoods, be they seen through a pastel haze of the warmth of a peat-fuelled fire, or the rainy disappointment and petty jealousy of others more fortunate than ourselves. And those memories infuse our present, and how we present the presents to our children. And more, there is the collision of our memories with those of our spouse. Two traditions on orthogonal trajectories, the fallout of which shapes the memories our children will take with them into the future.

And that, for me, was the initial strangeness of the first Christmas I had while married with children. The first married Christmas doesn't count, it being totally different to again to any with my own offspring, and not part of what I want to say. Yes, even the first Christmas, with my eldest being all of five months, started to embed our new traditions. History doesn't record whether he enjoyed the Scalextrix set I bought him, but we still have it, it still works, and I still remind him of it. I can still remember what he got me that first Christmas, too, a teaspoon that holds tea leaves so I wouldn't have to make a whole pot with my leaves, I could make a single cup, just for me. And I still use it. That was, in case you are wondering, seventeen years ago now.

My childhood involved the avoiding of the dining room, while my mother prepared the space, the meal, bustling around the outskirts of our vision. My brother, sister and I were not allowed in, we awaited the grand unveiling, usually around noon. Having already been up since six, we would amuse ourselves with only one present, opened in excitement with our mother, just enough to keep us occupied while she make the culinary highpoint of our year. The rest came later, once we had all done the dishes for her, while she had a glass of sherry and rested. The new board game, for the family, brought out and invariably I had to read and explain the rules. No one intruded on our time, it was just us. With our traditions and way of doing things. The right, usual and normal way Christmas works, right?

My wife's childhood involved the avoiding of their own home, Christmas morning being a time of journeying between relatives, doing a mutual present-swap and open, in stark constrast to our gathering of the presents over the preceding weeks. Dinner for her was at someone else's house, their family gathering in the calm aftermath of Boxing Day. It always seemed odd to me to charge around on Christmas Day itself, rather than relax. Presents always opened in front of the giver, which while I endorse, logistically was impossible for me. Not anywhere near the right, usual and normal way Christmas works, right?

When everything we were became everything we are, these inconsistencies rubbed against each other to create a new tradition, unique to us, just us. '...but that is the way I have always done it' no longer works, for this situation, this tradition, is now ours, new, sideways to the way it used to be, but very much ours. You can never throw away those things which brought you to where you are now, but you make concessions, and eventually your personal traditions are just stories you tell your children, for them to smirk and wonder '...but that isn't the way we have always done it'.

And so we pass new traditions on, for our children to take. Like their names, we give them our traditions, so we shouldn't be too upset when they accept this gift, and do with it what they want. Would we want it any other way? The traditions we share with them, that we formed with them, we will never lose. If we visit them at some future point over Christmas, we will watch their new take on their childhood, but, like I do, like my wife does, they put on a history show just for us, to make us feel comfortable. For really, who wants to intrude on the magic that goes on before noon, before the unveiling of the table with its crackers, napkins, unseen-since-last-year cutlery and hassled-but-please mother? Who wants to change the dash from house to house meeting the extended family and sharing our gift exchange? Who wants to forgo the routine of making sure the tags are kept with the presents, for the thank-you cards to be hand-written over the holidays and send onwards with our affection to all corners of the globe?

Who wants anythng other than their own traditons at Christmas?
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