One of the topics that temporarily snuffed out the fire of romance early in my marriage was the subject of family traditions.This wasn’t the easy to relight snuff, of let’s say, a candle. It was the enduring, smoldering snuff of Mt. St Helens, that continued to ooze and produce toxic flames that made the area glow for a decade afterward. We are talking that kind of snuff.
It shouldn’t have to be that way, nor did it need to be in my case. My theory is the very notio of tradition+ family is as sensitive as a missile launcher button, not because of religion or culture. Nay. It’s something far more important, far more precious. It’s because family traditions are learned at an age so young, bestowed upon innocent little selves so subtly that the tradition becomes a part of our very fiber. Therein lies the inexplicable to a boy/girlfriend, spouse etc. We don’t know a time or place without the said tradition, thus it is when the tradition itself is suggested as dull, boring, wrong or plain silly, our feelings aren’t just hurt. Our soul, our family…generations of Swedes in my case…are all rising up in arms to defend what is our own thread.
Might I suggest a new course of action. Dating folks should really listen up, for no one takes traditions like ‘our family always gets together on Thanksgiving’ seriously. It’s only after the rock is on the finger and the thank you notes are sent that the words sink in. Thanksgiving. Every year. For. The. Rest. Of. Your. Life.
Traditions should be talked about before wedding bliss, serious dating or otherwise contemplation of more children. Furthermore, the flexibility and compromise or, stop the world now, introducing new traditions, should be bantered about during the best of times. (that would post-coital, beach-lounging best of times. A crowd will be involved and a definite lack of clothing. Definitely a good time to have this discussion).
Personally, I’ve found the best route is to create new traditions the bind the two of you, and/or children if you are a little late to the game. Here goes a list in no particular order:
1. at dinner, (before the main meal or before dessert) go around the table and have everyone say what they are most grateful for that year. I love this one. I knew the end of one particular relationship was nigh when the man I brought waxed on about how horrible his life was (and we were planning on getting married. EEEEE!!!)
2. Cutting the tree. The day after Thanksgiving, my dad would don his rubber boots, and we would do the same. We’d slog out to the back 40 (American slang for the woods out past our tree), spend an hour or three listening to him wax long and philosophic about the thickness and length of the branches on this tree or that one, the color, the height, the distance between branches etc. The entire ordeal, usually done in the rain, but sometimes the snow, was torturous and wonderful, all at the same time. Dad was ours, for that brief, special period of time. No phone calls. No planes. No distractions. I’d give anything to hear him wax on about trees now.
Because we live in a largely wood frame home, my memories are all I have, as we made the hard decision to go fake (as in, fake trees). It pains me not to have the smell of the pine trees and I grumped about it for 7 years until I had my daughter. My attitude got out of my backside and near my heart, when I initiated the “day after Thanksgiving” tradition of having leftovers, but putting out all things Christmas just like mom. The entire day is filled with wonderful music, baking and being with the kids. The tree still gets up. It’s just less damp.
3. Potato sausage. I’m Swedish. We make homemade sausage throughout the year, but 2 times are a must. I’d rather be single forever than not have my potato sausage. Fortunately, I’ve not had to make that decision. Every man I’ve ever brought home has liked it as well (with the lone exception of dork referenced above. Should have known then…). (1.5 lbs beef steak, 1.5 lbs pork, 7 lbs potatoes, 3 large onions). Grind the meat, finely shop the potatoes and onions. Push all of it through a sausage grinder, and load into casings (pig intestines). Divine.
1. A present on Christmas Even or all the presents on Christmas eve (leaving the remainder for ‘santa’). This is akin to “to be, or not to be,’ without the flair an vitality of a man in stockings on a stage. After years of stupid bickering, we’ve reached a compromise, and it truly shows what kind of nutty mind rules this household. We count the total presents, and take a percentage (10%). That’s how many we open the night before. Can you believe it?? (I was in the 1 the night before camp, and thought it appalling to open every last gift. I mean, what if Santa forgot about me?!)
2. Movies after Christmas morning. This was also a tradition. What else was there to do? Now, we’ve switched it up, and usually go skiing. Much healthier. Limited popcorn on the slopes.
3. Santa ornaments. This would be a Sarah original. When Rog and I first married, we went on vacation to Whistler and stopped by a store in the Village. I saw a Santa on skis and had to have it. The next year, we were in Mexico, and a Santa was on a surfboard. From that time forward, I was always on the lookout. Wherereverhandblown. Rog got in the spirit, and we are equally in to this. (Mark my words, if we ever split up, we won’t give a rats *** about the cars. It will all be about the Santa collection).
4. Advent calendars. What is this you ask? It’s the 24 days of Christmas done in chocolate. Another Sarah special. I loved the 12 days of Christmas (the song), and popping a bit of handmade chocolate is a nice add. Anyone I truly love, I have either told them about the calendars, but better yet, I go in and buy 30, shipping and giving at Thanksgiving. This year, I’m hauling 6 down to my parents to distribute to siblings. Forget the family love. It’s all about the calendars. (these make great professional gifts as well. Who cares if someone is Jewish or whatever? Everyone will each chocolate, and besides, it is, in fact, a calendar. What’s to be offended over?
Last but not least…New Years
1. Shrimp ….I’m not sure who got us started on shrimp, but I think it was my older sister. All I remember was one year she revolted from our standard of Ham and scalloped potatoes on New Year’s Day. As non-drinkers, we are alive, clear-headed, and hungry. In hindsight, I imagine mom allowed this to spare the family an argument, but that didn’t mean she caved. Oh no. We still get our ham and scallop potatoes, but have the shrimp the evening before. To this day, that’s what I serve at my house.
OOO-I will admit to one other new holiday tradition in the Gerdes household. Chinese food. Yep, you heard me. During our extensive remodel, we were living out of a microwave for 3 years, seriously. We didn’t think about Christmas meal until we went searching to find an open restaurant. Guess what? The only joints open were Chinese. And not just any, but the best Chinese in Seattle. For the next 3 yrs, we ate at that place and now, when we are on a holiday and find ourselves in a culinary predicament, we just say “let’s go Chinese!” and we are sure to be taken care of. (no, I’m not going to tell you. Call me evil if you will, but its my little secret, until I decide to out it in a later blog).
PS. Christmas music before the strike of midnight on Thanksgiving night is pure evil.. May the force be with you all this week (those folks in Europe, Latin America and all my Russian and eastern reading folks….get crazy. Look up a traditional American dinner and give it a whirl).