The Many Faces of Celebration
Gifts come in many shapes and sizes but traditions are rooted in personal connection. For many of us, this bonding becomes a cherished anticipation that seems to become part of our DNA. Below you will find traditions (old and new!) from several of my friends and family.
For Southerners, food is the focal point of everything we do but the holidays bring out our best. Favorites run the gamut from Elaine Cheek’s Monkey Bread to Granny’s Death-by-Mayonnaise casserole. And if you don’t eat your greens for money and black-eyed peas for luck on New Year’s Day, well…
Holiday dinners can also be a focal point of various spiritual traditions. Some have their annual feast after Midnight Mass. During Hanukkah, fried foods, such as latkes and doughnuts, are the centerpiece that represents holy oil.
For Dora Liao, the Chinese New Year’s Eve dinner is the family reunion meal where fish and dumplings are served, signifying prosperity. This is followed by fireworks and Shou Sui, when they stay up all night to drive away evil.
April Conner has a delightful twist. They generally escape the materialism of the holidays by traveling to Central America. But when they remain stateside, the festivities continue. They turn off their phones, turn up the heat, wear beach clothes and have Caribbean food and juices.
For many traditionalists, Christmas tree lights glowing in the dark, bring “visions of sugar plums” dancing in the heads of children and adults alike. But for others, full-blown decorations make the season bright – some brighter than others! Robin Hightower adds lights to their collection every year “to make the world around us as bright as possible since light means hope.”
Since the mid 80s, Lynette Craig’s family has created a Weaverville tradition of acres of lights with 25 Christmas trees and more. Visitors have driven through from every state. It meant so much to one young woman that her future husband proposed with lights that read, “Will You Marry Me?”
Ed Fidelman’s menorahs are sheer joy. They represent the lighting of eight candles to honor the minute amount of sacred oil miraculously lasting eight days. His temple had a contest and he entered his “Eight Knights of Hanukkah.” What a delightful celebration of the sacred!
Gifts have become the mainstay of the holidays. My family’s unique tradition starts with a red-hot fire on Christmas Eve. Everyone, regardless of age, writes a small note with one request ranging from a toy to World Peace. One brave person stokes the coals, sticks their arm up the chimney holding a note and calls to the Brownies (elves) to take it directly to that GOM (Good Ole Man). One by one they snatch the notes while everyone cheers their success.
Chinese adults give Red Packets with money to young children to keep them healthy and give them a long life.
Aurora Miracle has a beautiful twist on giving. Growing up, her family got oranges in their stockings. When giving had gotten out of hand, she decided that she wanted to “unplug the Christmas machine.”
“Holidays are about the things we do together and not the things we give each other,” she aptly recounts. She now gives the gift of time. Both of their boys are given a day with Mom by choosing an unusual activity, which has ranged from driving hundreds of miles to snowboard or see manta rays. This has given them time with mom as well as exploring something unique they probably wouldn’t have done otherwise.
Unplugging the Christmas Machine
The commercialization of the holidays has sent many in the opposite direction. “Festivus for the Rest of Us!” derived from a Seinfeld episode; it substitutes a bare aluminum pole for a tree and includes the “Airing of Grievances” and “Feats of Strength.” The show’s dark humor has softened over the years. Irene Semanchuk with Sam and Brenda Craig, host this “quirky and irreverent” tradition with a white board used not only for writing grievances but also the airing of gratitude. Feats of Strength are comprised of both physical and mental activities where everyone wins and gets a kooky prize.
Both Buddhists and Quakers believe that every day is a “holy day.” Emma Churchman is a Quaker with a seminary degree whose family spends Thanksgiving and Christmas volunteering at a soup kitchen and delivering gifts to the homeless. Buddhist Suzan Honey shares, “New Year’s Day is a time to reflect and give appreciation for last year and determine how to make the world a better place next year.”
No matter how and when we celebrate, the joy we share with those we love is what matters. Make a vow to ensure this year is one from the heart.
Peggy Crowe is a REALTOR® who thrives on traditions that keep families bonded. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.