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2010 Virtual Advent Calendar

The one thing that is constant in life is change.

I have heard that expression since I was a little girl, but it seems the older I get the more I realize that adage is true.
My Christmas celebration has been steeped in tradition since I was born. I remember it started with decorating tree.  My dad would spend hours making sure that the tree stood straight – in the right spot in front of the living room picture window – and each light bulb worked before stringing them on the tree.  He would then take a a long dowel (about 36 inches) where he would evenly place the 4 cardboard cutouts of the current year – each cut out lined with glue and highlighted with festive glitter.  My brother and I would stand by the tree holding the sign so that Dad could take a “picture for posterity”  My brother and I would decorate the tree with ornaments (which I have a feeling might have been repositioned after we went to bed) and then Dad would meticulously hang individual silver icicles for that finishing touch.  This would officially begin our family Christmas.
There was some traditional baking during the days that led up to Christmas Eve – such as M&M; cookies, bishops bread, and orange balls.  Usually Mom would take an entire day to wrap the presents while Rodger and I were at school.  When I came home and saw all those lovely gifts “magically” appear under the tree I knew that Christmas was just around the corner.
Christmas Eve was not celebrated much in my house – except that we did often attend the midnight service when Rodger and I were old enough to stay up that late.  But no matter how much we pleaded, Dad would never allow us to open even one present on Christmas Eve.  All the magic had to happen on Christmas morning.  Consequently, the anticipation would keep us awake much of the night and when we would normally welcome sleeping late any other day of the week, Rodger and I were out of bed before 8:00AM to discover the treasures within the packages – and the surprises from Santa.  Yes, Santa came to our house as long as we lived under the roof.  The gifts were opened by mid-morning, we would feast on Christmas lunch of prime rib and mashed potatoes, and then all of us would take a nice long nap to round out the holiday.

When I married, I knew that some of my childhood traditions would need to meld with my husband’s Italian heritage.  I brought with me the desire to bake M&M; cookies and Bishop’s bread, and of course the continuation of Santa’s visit, while Geoff contributed the Italian tradition of the Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve.  In his house, Christmas Eve was celebrated as much as Christmas Day. His grandmother (first generation American) would always prepare the large meal of aioli (angel hair pasta with a garlic/anchovy sauce), bacala fritters (salted cod), fried white fish, and bacala salad that included Italian peppers drizzled with olive oil.  Not quite seven fishes – but it was a huge meal.  After all the dishes had been cleared, washed, and put away, gifts from Cora were opened while coffee and cookies were consumed.  

Geoff also brought his father’s love of Christmas lights into our home.  It would not be unusual for him to detangle ten or twelve strands of lights before placing them on the tree.  It often took several hours, but it was a true labor of love and resulted in a well-lit tree.
When we had children we knew that we wanted to institute some new traditions – that would be particular just to our family.  We still made the traditional cookies, although we added a few more to the list:  I eliminated orange balls but now include decorated sugar cookies and white chocolate dipped pretzels.  We decorate a tree — although I eliminated the need for an elaborate sign to announce the date, and Geoff relished the idea of a pre-lit tree rather than dealing  with all the tangled cords.  We began the tradition of inviting friends over to make gingerbread houses in 1992, which is a lot of work but also a lot of fun.  The Christmas Eve vigil continues, although we have substituted chicken tenders for bacala fritters, and shrimp and crab for bacala salad and white fish.  A bit more expensive than the original meal, but so delicious.  We allowed our children to open gifts from Cora and each other on Christmas Eve – but the remaining gifts would have to  wait until Christmas morning.  Santa still comes to all in the house, but here all the stocking stuffer gifts are individually wrapped to help make the Christmas surprise last a bit longer.  The Christmas breakfast consists of egg casserole and bagels and cream cheese (a bit of New England in the Midwest) and the Christmas dinner continues to be roast beast, potatoes and gravy, and two kinds of pie:  pumpkin and mincemeat.  The required nap is still a staple.
This has been our family tradition for a generation, but the times are changing.  This Christmas will be slightly different as my daughter will be celebrating with her in-laws in Memphis, my son will be splitting his time between our family and his girlfriend, and my mother is not sure that she is up to join us for all the festivities.  We will be small group around the dining room table. I will still bake the same cookies – although it will not be quite as elaborate or nearly as much; I will still wrap the stocking stuffers in the hopes of prolonging the magic of Christmas just a bit longer (although I anticipate the two kids at home will opt to sleep a bit later this year), and the two primary feasts will remain the same, although noticeably smaller.  
My eldest – racing to find what
Santa had brought (1993)

But while this Christmas will be different, it will also be transitional.  Next year will bring even more changes:  there will be a new granddaughter to shop for, my son will be living in LA rather than Nashville and it will not be as easy to hop a flight home; my youngest will have moved into her own apartment (although it will still be in town) and probably wish to do her own baking rather help me with mine.  Mom’s health is always questionable, but her presence will certainly be felt – just perhaps in a different way.  I anticipate that many of these traditions will stay the same — but I also know that many will be adapted.  My daughter will want to begin her own traditions with her daughter, my son will continue to split time between households, and my youngest will have established her own life.  All as it should be.  

It is my expectation that many of the traditions will continue because it is what Geoff and I desire of a Christmas holiday.  Perhaps the cookies will be fewer, the meals not as elaborate, and the decorating a bit toned down, but it will still be our Christmas.  I also hope that as the children grow older, we can continue to have a Christmas Eve vigil together every two or three years — and perhaps on the off-years we can celebrate a Christmas Day together as well.  Santa will still visit for all – although the wrapped stocking stuffers may be fewer as his helper seems to be developing a touch of arthritis in the knees and can’t wrap as much as she once could.
Yes, the more things change, the more the stay the same.  This is particularly true of our Christmas celebration.

19 Comments

  • Liz

    This is beautiful, Molly! You have created such lovely traditions that are true reflections of your connection with this holiday. It's quite inspiring!

  • Meghan

    This is such a beautiful post. Your memories practically burst with warmth and love, just as Christmas memories should. My husband and I are in the process of defining Christmas for ourselves and our potential future children – it's not so easy with family in two different countries. I'm glad you're accepting the adulthood of your children with such peace – I know it must be difficult.

  • Staci

    I truly loved this post Molly. Thank you so much for sharing your traditions with us and how life has changed the way you celebrate. I could envision the food, the smells, and how dedicated someone has to be to untangle all of those lights! My grandma used to put her tinsel on one strand at a time. It would take her all day but it was so worth the time because her trees were gorgeous!!

    Merry Christmas!

  • Anonymous

    I, too, loved your post, Molly, as we also are adjusting to transitions. I think if we embrace each step and welcome whatever comes, it is easier and we wake to find it really is Christmas Day again in spirit.

    You may be surprised as time goes on who wants to help with the baking even if they no longer live at home. I was when my daughter asked when she could come to bake cookies with me – unsolicited.

  • Jenners

    Thanks for sharing this … it was neat to read about your family's traditions and how they have changed and adapted over the years. It is true that each generation needs to find their own way and make their own traditions, but here's hoping a little bit of each generation sticks around.

  • Rodger Coleman

    Nice post, Molly! As I recall, we finally wore dad down and we were allowed to open our gifts to each other on Christmas Eve. Lizzy and I continue that tradition! I hope you all have a very merry Christmas!

  • Becky

    Thanks for sharing your lovely post. We used to do the big Christmas dinner, followed by the nap, as well. When my dad passed away & family members got married, we decided not to do it anymore. Now we cook up a big Christmas Eve dinner, and on Christmas morning we have a nice breakfast of baked goods, hot chocolate, and then leftovers all day. Surprisingly, the nap still happens! LOL.

    Have a wonderful holiday! At least we're on a nice break, right?!?

  • Trish

    Molly, I loved loved loved this post. It's always so fun to read about everyone's different traditions and how they each make Christmas special. My husband's family doesn't have many traditions so we are working on creating our own as we prepare for the little one next year.

    I wonder if it's a European tradition to put a lot of emphasis on Christmas Eve? Because of my Swiss grandparents we always have a huge feast on Christmas Eve that we look forward to more than Christmas dinner. We we always allowed one present to open on Eve when we were younger but it was always matching pajamas for my sisters and me. 😉

    The last picture of your daughter brought tears to my eyes–what a fantastic shot capturing her excitement!

    Merry Christmas to you and your family, Molly. It's tough when everyone gets older–my parents (divorced) are struggling with the sharing between each other, in-laws, and our own personal families, but we do try to keep some traditions alive.

  • kaye

    It's true, once we are married we have to take the best of each person's traditions and make new ones for a new family. I enjoyed your post very much. Have a merry Christmas.

  • Dave and Tami

    What a great post and what a great list of traditions. I love how you have combined your individual family traditions to create your own. We're experiencing those transitions, too. It will be different, but as long as we're all safe and happy and can be together SOMETIME (whatever the date) it's still a blessing.

    Wishing you and yours a Merry Christmas and a fantastic New Year.

  • Kathleen

    I love how you are already accepting the change that is to come and understanding that it is all part of life. Our Christmas is changing this year too. Now that my sisters who live near by have their own grandchildren we are only getting together for Christmas Day as a family. That leaves me and my son and sweetie to start a new Christmas Eve tradition of our own.

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