Tuesday, December 23, 2008

finding our essential traditions

Christmas used to be very hectic around here. What with writing cards and baking cookies and making and buying and hosting and cleaning and cooking..... This was when I was home full time, thinking I had to do it all. Then I went back to work and slowly we started to let go of some things. For one, we will not travel over the holidays as it gives our family one time where we can truly just hang out at home for a few days in a row.

This year, I caught a cold right before the holidays. At first I thought how it ruined my plans to get all these seemingly important tasks accomplished. But now I am actually welcoming how it forces to slow me down. We will only bake one or two batches of cookies this year (having already baked pumpkin bread for everyone my children have contact with in their school). At this point, Christmas or even New Year's cards seem highly unlikely.

As we continue to pare down the holidays every year, the aspects of the holidays that are truly important to our family become clear. There are certain things that have become traditions in our little family:

Advent. Every year we decorate a simple wreath with Beeswax votives and some red bows. We have a little Advent celebration every Sunday, complete with stories and yummy treats. For an hour and often less, we sit together, watch the candles, sing songs and forget about our to do lists.

Winter Solstice. We don't have a big celebration to mark this turning point of the year, but we don't turn on any lights that day. After it gets dark, we light candles and lanterns all over the house. Because there is so little to do without light, we gather in the living room, make a big fire, talk and maybe read a story by candlelight. Then we go to bed early. The children love the connection it gives them to all the people they have heard about in "olden times." I love how deeply we all get to experience the darkness very directly, and how it brings us close together.

The Tree Lighting. Every year we put real candles on our Christmas tree. I grew up with this tradition and insist on it. A few years ago we started a tradition of inviting a small group of people over a couple of days before Christmas for hot cider, cookies and watching the Christmas tree all lit up with candles. It truly is a magical experience. Someone always bursts into song, and soon we've sung all the Christmas carols (and Hanukkah songs) we can remember. After a while the children all run off to play somewhere, while the adults sit around, grateful for a moment's quiet before everyone returns to their own home for last minute Christmas or Hannukah preparations.

Christmas Eve. In my home country of Germany, Christmas is celebrated on the 24th. As a result, our Christmas celebration really begins on this day. Our tradition is to go ice skating for a couple of hours in the early afternoon, then we come home and cook a duck - which the children insist on. We have a nice, early, festive meal, leaving lots of time for last minute gift wrapping and other preparations, and also eating our fair share of cookies and other treats. Then we hang out by the fire and light the Christmas tree again.

All these traditions have become very dear to our family. They bring those special moments of anticipation, of experiencing an inner light, of hope and joy, of moments of stillness, of crafting and preparation.

I wonder what essential traditions your family has for this time of year?


Anonymous said...

For Advent we create the Nativity scene in order of the kingdoms: crystals, then pine cones, then wooly sheep, then shepherds, and on Christmas Day the Holy Family and the angel arrive. Then later the Three kings (well, King, as I have only made one so far!). We also have a paper Advent calendar on the wall.

We get our tree a few days before Christmas and leave it up for a while after. I'm not sure if we've made it all the way to Epiphany or not.

The last few years in New York we went to a friend's house for carol singing and lighting her tree. We don't do real candles on the tree at home, though looking at this year's tree I could see being able to do some. I always thought you needed a tree species that was very open, but maybe not.

When I was a girl, we opened our presents at home on Christmas Eve, because the next day we always went to my aunt's house. My husband put the kibosh on that, so now we open all presents and stockings on Christmas Day. Santa only brings what is in the stockings; presents under the tree are from family.

Oh--lots and lots of carol singing, starting the day after Thanksgiving!

I have tried over the last few years to send out holiday cards, but this year it didn't happen. I think I'll do a New Year's email!

I told my family about how you don't use any lights on the Winter Solstice. They were all very taken by that idea and I think we'll do that next year. I'd also like to light the menorah my mom gave us.

K. said...

Thank you for sharing! Oh I would love to hear how they like the Winter solstice. We've done the kingdom Advent in the past, this year I couldn't find everything I needed (oh where is that box?), so we just had a wintry nature table, no nativity. The kids were a bit sad, maybe I can get my act together again next year....

We usually buy Fraser Firs for Christmas tree. As soon as we get it I hang the heavy ornaments on the branches I want to stand way out from the tree, then I fix the candle holders on those and keep adjusting them for a few days until they stay nice and upright. It can be a bit tricky finding a good tree, but you don't need that many candles on it, often we only have about 12, this year I think I found 18 spots. And our little Tree lighting party was really wonderful.

Signing off until at least the New Year!

Teaching Handwork said...

Thank you for commenting on my blog. I like the idea of a mole....I will have to think about how to make that.....hmmmmm