Every year it’s … tradition!

It’s less than three weeks until Christmas. I’m sure you already knew that, but it’s just hit me. The only decorating I’ve done, so far, is here on this blog. I’m not doing much shopping this year, but I’ve put a few little things in my online cart. I’m clearly lagging behind.

It’s less than three weeks until Christmas. I’m sure you already knew that, but it’s just hit me. The only decorating I’ve done, so far, is here on this blog. I’m not doing much shopping this year, but I’ve put a few little things in my online cart. I’m clearly lagging behind.

I don’t even have a good excuse. It’s not like I’m writing up a storm. (I wish.) One of our sons is a member of the Jazz Composer’s Orchestra, and tonight we attend their annual holiday concert, so maybe that will get me in the mood. Even if it doesn’t, I have no more time to waste.

At least I don’t have to plan any menus. We’ll be going to a son’s house for Christmas day, and our Christmas Eve dinner is always the same. We have a Syrian feast. My husband will make the kibbee (triple-ground round steak with cracked wheat and onions) to prepare three ways—my favorite is nayee (raw).

Probably a granddaughter or two will come over to help roll the grape leaves, but it will be up to me alone to see if this year I can successfully make the vegetarian version.

My husband and I make the hummus together. I’ll cook the lubee (grean beans) and pilaf, and make tabouleh, and khyar bi laban (cucumber yogurt salad). Maybe I’ll get ambitious and make fatayer sabanigh (spinach pies). For our oldest son who fondly remembers his Aunt Ronni’s American addition of creamed corn, we’ll have a little of that. Of course, we’ll also have pita, yogurt, olives, braided cheese, raw veggies, baklava and cookies.

And wine, of course! As you can see, the women start on that in the kitchen and we laugh a lot.

This year, all of our sons and grandchildren will be here. At some point, our second son will measure all the grandchildren against the inside of the closet door. Gifts will be given out, starting in an orderly fashion and ending in joyful chaos. And this year, hopefully, we’ll remember to take a family group photo before anyone leaves.

Your turn: What holiday traditions do you observe in your family?

Irony, an update

Irony is a cruel teacher. A couple hours after I published yesterday’s post on Christmas tree tradition, I prepared to decorate this year’s tree. My husband stacked the containers of ornaments in the back hall, and as soon as I popped the lid of the top one, my heart sank. Mildew. I lifted the lid and slammed it closed a second later. Not ready to believe what I’d seen, I pushed it back out on the porch.

We knew we had a leak in the garage roof, so we’ve stored all our Christmas decorations in plastic bins under a tarp. The lid on this one was still closed tight, and there were no obvious cracks in it or the bin, yet somehow water had entered this one. Where I live, it rarely rains from April to October. We had our leaky garage reroofed in late summer, so for at least seven months fungus had been growing in the container. We sprayed half a can of Lysol before even attempting to look through things. All the boxes fell apart when touched. I attempted to wash off the glass ornaments, but they were so damaged the paint came off immediately. At least seventy purchased ornaments went into the trashcan.

I hated that waste, but that’s not what upset me. The largest box in the container—the one with the thickest growth—contained ALL the handmade ornaments from my children’s and grandchildren’s school days. The kind made mostly of paper and yarn, the most fragile and most loved. My favorite bulb from my own childhood was stored in that box, as were my beautiful hand-painted glass eggs and the tree topper we’d used for decades. And my last golden bird. Gone. Gone. Gone.

Only one thing was salvaged. One. A maroon glazed-clay disk engraved with a star, made by my son, Michael, is the lone survivor. With a new gold ribbon hanger, this one ornament will now represent all my family Christmas memories.

I cried.  Of course. But what’s done is done. I must let it go. During the process of dealing with the damage, not one writerly thought distracted me. But later, after the shock wore off, I started to analyze. I wondered at the coincidence of my writing about memories and tradition so soon before the loss of physical objects that embodied some of mine. Considering the sadness, near grief, I felt when I accepted the destruction of those personal treasures, I glimpsed how truly devastating it must be to suffer the loss of every personal item by fire or flood.

There’s a lesson for me in this event. For me, this year has been a progression of losses, some minor, some not. The pessimist in me prays I’m not being prepared for a greater loss soon. The optimist hopes this was only a reminder to value what’s most important, and let the lesser things go. Any thoughts?


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A thought on tradition

As I sit here writing this post on Saturday night, the virtual fireplace roars and pops in all its high-definition glory accompanied by orchestral holiday music that reminds me of classic black and white movies. Thoughts of childhood filter through, though considering I have memories that go back to the age of two, not many of them are of Christmases. Our family often struggled financially, so I expect this commercialized holiday was rather low-key at our house.

My first Christmas memory is of the year I was five and spoiled Santa for my sister. My next memory is of my ninth, when I got my last baby doll—yes, nine. We grew up much slower back in the olden days. The next one I remember specifically, I think I was sixteen. That was the year my mother bought a silver tree. Silver as in aluminum foil! Due to its nature, we couldn’t trim that abomination with our traditional colored lights, so she’d bought the rotating color wheel accessory. I detested that tree. It took its presence as a personal offense. To this day, I blame that misguided experiment for inciting my slavery to Christmas decorating traditions.

Three years later, I celebrated my first Christmas as a married woman. At that time, we lived in Germany where my husband was stationed with the U.S. Army. I shopped for my decorations in the village, and my husband and his friends drove up in the mountains to cut down our tree. While holiday music played on Armed Forces Radio, I hung blown-glass bulbs and clipped on delicate glass birds. I arranged and rearranged them seeking a perfect display from three sides. When I finished, we went to see a movie on base.

Two hours later, we arrived home to find our beautiful tree on the floor and shattered glass everywhere. My birthday present kitty had wrecked my Christmas tree. Most of the birds survived because they were secured to the branches, but half the bulbs were now glittery pieces. We drove a nail in the wall and secured the tree upright with fishing line. Military pay didn’t stretch far enough to replace the broken ornaments, so I had to stretch the remaining ones over the tree.

The next summer, many of the remaining bulbs and a couple of birds broke during shipment home of our household goods, and others disappeared through the following years. Now I have only one, slightly battered, golden bird left, and I give it a place of honor on my tree every year. Though I no longer have real trees  because of family allergies, mine is traditional in every other way. Tomorrow, I will spend most of the day decorating it. My collection of glass ornaments has grown to hundreds and I still arrange each one with care.

Your turn: What is your Christmas tree like? If no tree, what holiday tradition is your favorite?


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Tradition

2tree081This golden bird on my Christmas tree is the last remaining glass ornament I bought in Germany. There were a dozen of them originally, though a few were broken that very first year when our kitten pounced and toppled the tree. Others either never survived their shipment back to the States the following year, or our subsequent nomadic life.

The bird is not the oldest ornament on my tree. That honor goes to a faded blue glass globe topped with snow that once glittered. This ornament was my childhood favorite, and each year nestles in a secret spot at the back my tree.

I decorate my tree “old style” with as many glass ornaments as I can fit, alongside ones made lovingly by my children and grandchildren. It takes hours to create my sugarplum fantasy, working outward from trunk to tip and downward from top to bottom. It’s a labor of love. It’s tradition.

Tradition grounds us, centers us, comforts us. It represents our memory of the past, our enjoyment of the present, and our anticipation of the future. I wish for you to have abundant tradition throughout your life.