Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukah Newport!
No matter what you believe or how you celebrate the holidays, tradition plays an important role in how we express our faith, heritage and the passing of another year. Some are poignant, some silly, but all are rooted in the desire for a feeling of togetherness, the kindling of the spirit of giving, the sharing of gratitude, and the wishes and hopes for the coming year.
I decided to conduct an informal poll of holiday traditions and found they come as varied as the colorful packages nestled under our Christmas tree.
Columnist Jill Fales shared that her husband’s mom would bake a special birthday cake each year, and they’d all sing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus. Jill is Jewish, her husband Christian, but together they celebrate both holidays with equal aplomb. The first of the eight days of Hanukkah this year was Tuesday, and with our thriving Jewish community, the Menorah Lighting Ceremony at Fashion Island is quite the event. Jill says they look forward to it every year and feel a specialness among the huge crowd of people of all faiths that it draws.
Some people adopt a cause, sharing their blessings in lieu of gifts to each other; they donate much needed time, money or necessary supplies to a charitable organization.
My Slavic and Italian friends remember their Roman Catholic families’ long-standing tradition of eating seafood on Christmas Eve, lots of it. The “Feast of the Seven Fishes” included the passing of homemade wine for all to enjoy, even the youngsters, and everyone gathering in the den afterwards for card games and storytelling.
Another pal has a party each year for ex-pats and friends from the Midwest, where she grew up. She busts out a vintage copy of “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” and each person reads a page as the book is passed around.
Friend Ann’s mom, Bonnie, gives each of the 14 people in her family a pair of flannel pajamas on Christmas Eve. By the end of the evening, everyone is wearing their new cozy flannels. Sometimes the sizes are not exactly accurate. Last year, Ann’s sister, who is an XL, squeezed into a small and they all had a good laugh. For 30 years, Bonnie has reused the same boxes with their names on them.
Scavenger hunts were mentioned with regularity, something my Mom did when we were kids. She’d write a clever poem with hints about where our gifts were hidden, and we’d have to seek them out. My friend Stephanie’s mom would wrap a succession of presents containing clues to lead to the next. She says they never tired of it, even as adults.
As kids, my friend Susan and her four siblings would have to sit at the top of the stairs until their dad had his cup of coffee before presents could be unwrapped, the smell of sizzling bacon and hotcakes wafting up from the kitchen where her mom was cooking a big family breakfast.
The Indy’s Chris Trela tells me that on Christmas Eve he watches “The Wizard of Oz” because as a child he fell in love with the movie and over the years grew to appreciate the values and themes which made it so popular – people seeking their heart’s desire, the battle of good versus evil, and most of all Dorothy’s famous quote, “There’s no place like home.” He plans to carry on the tradition for many years to come.
Some traditions start at Thanksgiving and carry through Christmas. My friend Karen’s family goes around the table on Turkey Day, each giving a reason they are thankful, picking a word for the coming year, for example “blessed.” At their Christmas dinner, the words are written on a card and placed in water goblets for each to read before the meal begins.
Our Christmas will be filled with all the little things I’ve come to love: Heading to church services, a day visiting with friends and family, the sound of “It’s a Wonderful Life” playing in the background, football game predictions, wrapping-paper piles, the smells of time-honored family recipes being cooked for the umpteenth time, holding hands as we say grace.
And we’ll raise a glass to tradition – a collective of solemn, sentimental and silly, old and new – all that make for the true magic of the season.