As Christmas is a world-wide celebrated holiday, it isn’t very surprising everyone has their own personal traditions. Unfortunately, not every holiday tradition fills us with careless glee. When do you know you should be making new holiday traditions, rather than trying to keep reliving the old? I’d like to take this opportunity to share my personal story with you, hoping it will help you in case you find yourself looking for an answer to a similar question.
I have fond memories of my childhood Christmas celebrations, as it was always a family affair. My mother was exploring the possibilities for our festive dinner months ahead of time, diving head-first in several cookbooks and culinary magazines. Every year another set of family or friends would join us, making every Christmas different and exciting. And a few weeks in advance, we’d put up a Christmas tree with our regular old ornaments.
Now I have to admit, “regular” and “old” might be understatements. We received most of the silvery glass dangles from our next door neighbor, who ended up reaching the not-so-tender age of one hundred years old. And neither of us would have been surprised if she would have acquired them in her own youth before she had gifted them to us.
Needless to say, the (even then) vintage ornaments had a special place in our hearts. Who ever put up the Christmas tree had their own favorite ornaments. Some were so old-fashioned and dated they looked silly to me. Others were so delightfully shiny and pretty in my eyes, I wished we could have them out all year round. And dropping one would mean they would break beyond repair, making them even more precious.
Our box of decorations also held some more specific holiday memorabilia. My favorite was a little old booklet with Christmas carols. In hindsight they were kind of morbid* but part of my personal tradition was crawling under the Christmas tree with these annually returning stories, only to finish when I got sore from laying on the floor, with pine needles stuck in my hair.
* My favorite was called something in the lines of “Hans and his Christmas rabbit”. It tells the story about our boy Hans, who thought he overheard his father saying his son’s pet bunny was getting nice and plump, and that they would have him for dinner on Christmas. Hans takes immediate action and sets his rabbit free in the hopes of saving it’s life. When he finds out his dad was talking about the pig in the shed rather than his pet, Hans takes on a grueling mission to get his bunny back home. Which was of course in all sorts of danger from malicious fairies. Those are antique German fairy tales for you!
The box of Christmas decorations survived one divorce, three movings and more than a decade of attic storage after they came into my possesion. Because after my parents split up, it didn’t feel right to pull out the decorations we’ve always used for the most important family feast of the year while the make-up of our celebrations had changed. But I always told myself, that when I would have kids of my own, I’d whip out our old decorations again.
Room for a fresh start
This year – after I managed to produce, deliver and make a flying start to raise said baby, I realized the time had finally come. Christmas will arrive next month and I too am looking forward to finally having a tree in the livingroom – in time with little parcels underneath which my offspring will curiously prod, rattle and shake long before Christmas day. But I have to be honest with you: Even a month before Christmas, I first wasn’t too sure if digging up this box of childhood memories was the right way to go.
This has two rather contradictory reasons. One was that the box and it’s contents had acquired a bit of a bitter aftertaste through the years while I dragged it from house to house. It was a reminiscent of a past long gone, colored by a divorce – which like most separations, wasn’t pretty. Another was that even though my daughter’s first Christmas was around the corner, I started to realize I had been mentally leaning a little too much on that dusty old crate in the attic.
When nostalgia becomes limiting
Every divorce marks the end of an era. And even though I was an adolescent when my parents divorced, it meant the end of that precious youthful stupor only your childhood nest can give you. It meant I suddenly had a lot of growing up to do. Things changed – some for the better – but one thing was certain: Things would never be the same as they were. Nor would Christmas as I knew it.
So after a lot of thinking (and more reminiscing than I’d like to admit) I finally realized I was being limited by my own sense of nostalgia.
This box of old Christmas decorations subconsciously became a monument of all what Christmas once meant to me, and all I hoped Christmas would mean to me again once I had a family of my own.
In fact, I think some childish part of me hoped that once I opened this crate of memories, I would find myself back under the tree in my elderly home, reading about Hans and his Christmas rabbit with pine-needles in the folds of my sweater.
So after carefully reviewing these conflicting emotions, I found a solution. Instead of trying to relive my past, I should be focussing on starting new, beautiful Christmas traditions with my daughter and the Mister.
Making new holiday traditions
It isn’t strange to grasp at what we know. Life is one big chain of trial and error, where we choose which actions to repeat and what mistakes to avoid to ensure our happiness. But to me, this was the perfect example of being too hung up on the past, while I find myself at the perfect opportune moment to focus on the future. Instead of wanting to relive the past, I have to learn to appreciate from afar, rather than trying to recreate it. And as the brilliant philosopher Semisonic* used to say: “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end”.
* OK, it’s in fact a band from the 90s. Aristotle, Sue me.
Does this mean my old box of Christmas decorations remains in the attic? I can spoil the surprise for you: It currently sits in my office, partly unpacked. Some ornaments weren’t only broken: They seemed to have deteriorated with age. Some looked less appealing (or – a total cliché I know – smaller) than I remembered them. But I also found some of my old favorites, and a few new favorites as well.
I decided by the time my daughter’s first Christmas tree will reach our livingroom I’ll bring down my box of childhood memories and mingle them with new memories to come. Ornaments we’ve purchased together, having my 8 month old pick them out from the store in the most basic but cutest of ways. Little tidbits we’ve found in the woods, or which we’ve crafted on rainy days. In fact, I’m already looking forward to the Christmas tree creations she’ll bring home when she gets older, plastered together at school with glitter and glue.
All these together will make up my new box of decorative holiday memories.
Have you ever felt you were clinging on to traditions or memories you were better off letting go?