I put up the Christmas tree today. Kristen and I haven’t bothered with them for most of our marriage. It’s not that we’ve anything against Christmas or decorating for it, but we’ve got five cats. Cats take great joy in climbing on things (like trees), chewing things (like electrical cords) and in batting around small objects (like ornaments).
My general attitude has been that I’ll enjoy the holidays more if I don’t have to spend them protecting the Christmas tree from the cats, or, alternately, the cats from the Christmas tree.
Now though, we have kids and have experienced a growing realization that we are the makers of their childhood memories and creators of family Christmas traditions. Both Abby and Rebecca are pretty young and don’t really have a script of all the things that absolutely must happen at Christmas for Christmas to be normal.
That’s a good thing, because we really don’t have family traditions yet either. Basically, Kristen and I live within a short drive from both of our parents, and, thus haven’t had to develop any.
When I grew up, my family’s Christmas traditions were grounded in the following reality: we will not be home for Christmas.
My Dad grew up in Denver. My Mom grew up in northern Indiana. They moved to Holland, Michigan where my Dad teaches (political science) at Hope College. During Christmas we would either be in Colorado or Indiana.
Basically, we would have a family Christmas in Holland during the week before Christmas and then we would travel to a larger family gathering somewhere else. I’m not sure when we would put up a Christmas tree. It mostly seemed to happen after Thanksgiving, but not just after Thanksgiving. I think it was usually later than that.
The family meal for our private family gift-giving ranged from going out for to Ole Taco’s for fast Mexican food (when we were little) to fondue (in high school and college).
The core of what I remember about Christmas Eve and Day is being one of a crowd of children running around, exploring the basement, and playing throughout the house. That’s a memory that my kids probably won’t have soon–so far they’ve got only one cousin.
As my grandparents (both on my Mom’s and Dad’s side) have gotten older and moved into assisted living centers, they’ve stopped organizing Christmas. On my Mom’s side, the family doesn’t gather as a group for Christmas any more. My Dad’s side of the family may, but I haven’t been to Denver for Christmas in more than 10 years now, so I don’t know.
Now Kristen and I split Christmas Eve/Day between her family and mine, using the evening before Christmas Eve for our own family party. We’ve yet to set a standard menu. I’ve often made shrimp (marinated in beer and garlic), but I can’t see toddlers enjoying that–though you never know. I suspect that Abby and Rebecca’s ideal Christmas dinner would be a McDonalds’ chicken nuggets happy meal.
As for the Christmas tree itself, this year is the first year that Abby and Rebecca helped. They were very proud of themselves. Now I have to make sure they stay away from the tree. With the cats all I have to do is apply Bitter Apple and aluminum foil to appropriate spots near the tree.
With children, my major option for the moment seems to be shouting “No, no! Don’t touch!” as they do things that threaten to knock the tree on it’s side. That, I suspect, will be a truly wonderful Christmas memory that we will share for years to come.