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Christmas Memories: Traditions Come and Gone

The holiday season is upon us again. Look. I celebrate Christmas. I will wish you a merry Christmas, and I will welcome any holiday greeting you can throw my way. I love it. In this context, however, I say holiday season, because this is a season of tradition. No matter the holiday you recognize and celebrate, you surely have a set of traditions in your family. Heck, even for those who choose to celebrate nothing, there is tradition involved. When I was in elementary school. it was my friend's tradition to sit out in the hall while the rest of us celebrated Christmas. It was tradition.

Traditions are a wonderful thing, a powerful thing. They bring feelings out of us. Feelings of nostalgia for memories past. They aren't simply something we do, they are a part of us. They make those who are far away seem closer. They connect us to those who may no longer be with us. Over the years I have held many traditions with my family and friends. This time of year, I find myself thinking of them more and more.


Of course there are the, well, traditional traditions. We always had a tree. A real one. A tree my dad would purchase from the Boy Scout lot just days before Christmas. "To get the best deal."

(the sign reads, "please haggle")

The tree would be decked in garland and red lights with flower shaped plastic covers. Even as a child, the lights seemed ancient to me. Like they would fall apart as my dad struggled to untangle them. After my dad put on the lights, my brother and I would cover the tree in ornaments. Many of the ornaments in the family collection were shrinky dinks. Old, like the lights. So old, in fact, that neither myself nor my brother had any part in making them. I remember trying to place them strategically, so that the red light would shine through the opaque image of Christmas carolers, or Santa Claus filling a stocking, or a ragdoll girl. After everything, atop the tree would be placed a woman. Not an angel. Just a woman. Dressed for Christmas, yes, but not an angel. Red dress, hands in a muff. no wings. A Christmas woman. Over the years, many of these ornaments were trashed. Most of them, actually. Replaced with more elegant balls and icicles. Likewise, the ancient red lights finally burned out and were discarded. My parents would eventually even purchase an artificial tree - Pre-lit. Leaving the Boy Scouts and their lot without a debate of just how much a tree with only one good side is actually worth, a mere week before the big day.

(couple a bucks?)

Of course, most everyone who celebrates Christmas has a tree. Not an entirely unique tradition. One tradition that I'm sure will set the Goodroad household apart, however, is candles.

                                                                                  . . . . . . .

I was a very small child in the mid eighties. Even still, I can very distinctly remember the candles. They were large and bulky. A round snowman head, and a rosy cheeked Santa head. So large and bulky that I would have to use both of my little hands to carry a single one. Which I did. I would handle them, move them around, trade their places.

These candles were amazing. I loved them. And all I wanted was for my mother to burn them. After all, that is what candles are for. Every year, my mother would unpack the decorations, and every year I would beg her to light those candles. Every year, she refused. Until one year, the candles were gone. Unpacking the Christmas décor, I noticed something missing. I asked my mother what had happened to the "those candles. You know, the awesome ones. Snowman and Santa." She had done it. She had burned them. After years of refusing, she had finally lit the candles. Unceremoniously and without my knowledge. The tradition had ended, and I didn't even know it. The thing is, I created the significance of those candles. This tradition was important to me. But only to me. My mother had no idea that the candles were so significant to me. She just thought that I wanted to burn candles. She may have even thought that I hated the candles, and that's why I wanted to burn them. I didn't even realize, until they were gone, just how significant they were to me. She had unknowingly taken the tradition away from me. Unfortunately, I did the same to her.

                                                                                . . . . . . .

Anybody who knows my mother knows that she loves music. They will also know that she holds a special place in her heart for Christmas music. A tradition that she had passed on to my brother and I as soon as we could carry some degree of a tune. In a drawer, in the spare bedroom of my parents house, right this moment, is a VHS tape featuring my brother singing Christmas carols in front of the tree while my mother leads on piano and I knock around a red balloon. Soon after this tape was shot, we would all move to a new home in a new neighborhood, and would begin a new tradition. Each year my mother would dress my brother and myself up. Usually as makeshift shepherds. One of my dad's white dress shirts, towel wrapped around our head, brown belt.

(just like this, only with more buttons)

We would then go door to door handing out paper Christmas decorations and singing carols. The easy classics: Frosty the Snowman, We Wish You a Merry Christmas, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.

(probably sounded something like this)

It had even become something of a tradition for our neighbors as well. Other kids would tag along. People would ask if we were doing it this year... when we were doing it this year. On occasion, we would be invited in for cocoa, cider, and treats. Then, one year, we just couldn't be bothered. My brother and myself. We were too old, too cool, too whatever. After that, it was just done. We have not caroled since.


The sad truth is that traditions come and go. At times they just fade away, others they are gone without even realizing it. Ornaments get replaced, candles get melted, children refuse to sing. I realize that right now, some of you may be thinking that this story is sad. Some allegory of the mootness of tradition. Everything ends, so what's the point? It is not that at all. True, these things do end. Things shift and change. Nothing lasts forever. But what you need to understand is that these are the things that I remember, as I remember them. They are traditions that hold a significance to me. I remember the red glow of lights. The pattern the plastic flower petals cast across the basement walls. I remember how I felt holding those candles. I can remember how they felt in my little hands, just as I remember how I felt when I learned that they were gone. These are my memories of Christmas, my traditions. I experienced them, and I recall the memories in a different way that anybody else.

It was sad for me the first year I decorated an artificial tree. It was sad for me when I realized the candles were gone forever. It was probably very sad for my mother when she realized that she would no longer be able to carol with her children. A tradition that meant something very different to her as opposed to my brother or myself. I find that to be an amazing, wonderful, human thing. We all have different traditions, we all hold things dear in a different way, and we all remember things for a different reason. Some traditions go, some live on. My family still finds the time to enjoy a movie in the theater every Christmas eve. Now my daughter joins us. A tradition just as significant as those that have gone away.

So, to you, I say Merry Christmas. Celebrate whatever you choose with the traditions that you love. Take some time to remember those traditions that may have been forgotten over the years. Because it is not only the tradition, but also the memory that matters.

                                                                                . . . . . . .

(Christmas eve. Journeyed home to find his favorite candles waiting. Unburnt)

Merry Christmas, everyone. -DG

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mickyarber Posted on Dec 18, 2016 at 12:48 AM

I don't know how I missed commenting on this last year when it was new, but I love this article. This is really what nostalgia is at it's heart.

There are a lot of traditions around Christmas are luckily still alive and well around our house. Like I have a rule that no one opens a present until everyone has had breakfast....just like my Dad insisted on when I was a kid.

My wife grew up with her grandparents making Pillsbury Orange Sweet Rolls for breakfast on Christmas morning, so we keep that going as well. So in these modern times, no one opens a present until everyone has had an orange sweet roll.

But I love hearing about traditions in other people's lives, especially those involving Christmas. This article hits a nice place deep inside. Glad you shared it.

fuschnikt Posted on Dec 17, 2015 at 01:33 AM

Hey Vapor..I was surprised just how many traditions, big and small, had gone for me as well. As I was writing this, so many forgotten things came flooding back. Even just the Christmas morning "procedure" so to speak. Waking up, Santa always left something in our room, my mom putting on Christmas music, waiting by the stockings for my dad to get his coffee (he took forever..might have been on purpose). It was really a walk down memory lane.

Vaporman87 Posted on Dec 15, 2015 at 12:08 PM

It's easy to forget traditions that are gone. Once they are replaced by new ones, the old ones seem to get obscured by the passing years.

After reading this, I tried to recall some traditions of Christmases past that are now gone. To my surprise, there are a lot of them.

From the get-togethers at my grandparent's houses, to even the get-togethers (in more recent years) at my dad's and also my mom's house. We no longer do any of those things. My grandparents and my mom are no longer with us. My dad, getting divorced now for the second time, lives alone. No more family gatherings there.

Those are just the big ones. There are so many more small traditions that are no more. All replaced by new ones that I and my own little family participate in. I hope these new traditions last for as long as my children want them to. I must always be keenly aware of what little things may mean a lot to them during the holidays.

Thanks fuschnikt.

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