A Big Stack of Traditions

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Being in retail, my husband, Matt, works around the clock during the holiday season. If there is going to be any merry making, it must be initiated and executed by yours truly.

Being raised Jewish, I have the Hanukkah traditions wired. The pyrotechnics of letting kids loose with live flames at the menorahs, the hazards our knuckles face when grating pounds of potatoes for latkes and standing over hot popping oil, with band-aids on said knuckles frying the said latkes. Dreidels are left on the floor like land mines for unsuspecting mothers in bare feet.

During Hanukkah we run the risk of being burned or maimed for more than a week straight, but the Jews are used to danger and sacrifice. It’s who we are.

In contrast, Christmas is benign. There is the occasional ornament that breaks, the tree may not be getting enough water, or in an extreme case, the gingerbread house might collapse under the weight of too much candy. In our house, someone licking a candy cane into a sharp weapon is about as dangerous at it gets.

Whether it’s lighting a menorah or decorating a tree, experts all agree that traditions are vital to a healthy and strong family. Kids feel more secure and anchored participating in activities that are repeated each year. Which is a big reason why our mixed family has embraced all of the holidays.

And while traditions can be passed down from one generation to the next, birthing new traditions in each family is important, as well.

Several years ago, on Christmas Eve, I was alone at home with the kids while Matt was still at work. I envied all of the families already gathered in a warm house, drinking eggnog near the warmth of the fireplace, or assembled around the piano singing carols.

In San Jose, my husband’s family’s traditional Christmas Eve party was well under way, without us.

Christmas Eve was never a big to-do in our family, so there wasn’t much of a plan other than I would not have to cook and we would have dinner together.

The day ended and the sky blackened. My mood followed. The melancholy turned to bitterness as I called my husband who was supposed to be home an hour earlier. Christmas is here. There’s nothing more you can do. Come home.

He pulled up; we all piled in the car and started driving in no particular direction.

It was a pathetic moment in the history of our family.

Our options of where to go were limited to the few places still open. With the three small kids we had at the time, any place with linen also had to be ruled out.

Then, just like always, Dad became the hero. In a tone dripping with excitement akin to “The circus is in town!” he said, “Who wants pancakes for dinner?”

The decision was unanimous.

We pulled into IHOP and at that point my dark mood began to lift. It was so ridiculous that we both began to laugh. “We’ve hit new lows” we joked under our breath as the kids happily colored their kids menus and waited for their happy-face pancakes to arrive.

And so a tradition was born. Not a Jewish one or a Catholic one, but a family one.

A few years later, when Janey was in first grade, each child had to give an oral report about a family holiday tradition and bring something to share. We were correct in guessing that of all the presentations, Janey would be the only kid in her class to proudly pass out IHOP children’s menus, crayons and pancakes.

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