News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Tradition or outdated expectation?

On the Norman Rockwell covers of the Saturday Evening Post, holidays were always depicted as large family gatherings centered around a long table laden with mountains of home-cooked food. Everyone seated at the table appeared to be jovial.

Hallmark and most advertisers still promote that version of the holidays — especially Thanksgiving and Christmas. I grew up with a version of Rockwell’s scene, either at home or with relatives around my grandmother’s grand table; aunts and uncles and cousins all gathered to celebrate the season. I was programmed to believe that holidays involved lots of people, lots of food, and lots of preparation.

Christmas meant decorating the tree that the family went out in the woods to cut. My joy was always setting up the creche my father had made, adding straw and painted plaster of paris figurines of Joseph, Mary, the three wise men coming from the east, and the shepherds with their sheep. An angel hovered above the stable. The baby Jesus was a little wax figure that got smaller every year due to some summer melting in the hot attic where the Christmas decorations were stored.

Once I learned the truth about Santa, I took over wrapping all the Christmas presents (except the ones for me) — a chore I loved. Stockings really were hung by the chimney with care, even after Santa no longer came down the chimney.

Christmas Eve included the annual midnight communion service, with standing-room-only crowds and swelling Christmas carols reaching to the rafters. Arriving home in the small hours of the morning, the requisite cookies and milk for Santa and carrots for the reindeer had to be set out by the fireplace.

All those traditions carried over into my young married life and felt right and familiar. Following my divorce, however, things changed to accommodate my son spending Christmas Eve with his father. My ingrained celebratory expectations (traditions) were still there, leading to an empty feeling of disappointment.

After remarrying, my son and I stepped into a large family with four other children, more aunts and uncles, and many cousins and their Christmas traditions, some very familiar, others not so much. I spent every holiday season trying to fulfill my early expectations that still lingered in my psyche; expectations that had become outdated and unrealistic.

It has taken many years of changing circumstances, some chosen by me, others just happening, for me to evolve into a person with no expectations where holidays are concerned. Each year, as the country gears up for Thanksgiving and Christmas, I go about my life actually being thankful that I don’t have to feed 32 people, or spend time and money on elaborate preparations for large family gatherings or a Christmas tree buried in gifts.

Let me assure you, I have not become a Scrooge. I still enjoy the music of the season and seeing all the beautiful lights and decorations put up by others. What I no longer have are expectations (dressed as traditions) for how to acknowledge the holidays; no have-tos or shoulds. That way, whatever happens any given holiday, I am not set up for disappointment.

I even gave all my carefully-collected Christmas ornaments to my son and his wife several years ago. Each of those ornaments has a story behind it. Some were collected on travels to far-off places, some precious for having been crafted by my sons in school or Cub Scouts.

A holiday is now what I make of it. I can treat it like any other day of the year. I can gather with family or friends if I choose. I can offer to volunteer for a local agency to help serve a holiday meal. It changes almost every year. One thing I do every year since moving to Sisters is provide Christmas for a local child whose age and wishes can be found on a tree at Ray’s. I purchase the gifts that are then distributed by the Sisters-Camp Sherman Fire Department.

I have always loved giving more than receiving, and fulfilling a child’s wishes is such a rewarding way to acknowledge Christmas. That one act is much more satisfying than trying to maintain outdated traditions that are no longer realistic or relevant.

How are your traditions? Are they serving a good purpose and bringing you joy, or have some become burdensome expectations?


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