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Comfort and Joy

November 27, 2002

What holiday traditions do you find the most comforting?

Once again, a Random Acts of Journaling prompt has me stumped. I picked this one out thinking it would be a good topic for the day before Thanksgiving, yet now that I’m faced with writing about it, I have more questions than answers. I’m clear on which holidays I want to cover—Thanksgiving and Christmas—but past that, I’m floundering. I can think of plenty of holiday traditions, but they’re mostly things other people do or things I think other people do because I’ve read about them or seen them on tv or in movies. My own family of origin didn’t really establish any customs I wanted to take with me into adulthood, and even though Mr. Karen and I have been married sixteen years, we haven’t settled into any particular holiday routines. I feel like I lack sufficient traditions to either comfort or burden me.

Part of the problem is that my definition of “tradition” is pretty narrow. Doing something once or twice doesn’t count. Even doing something half a dozen times doesn’t count if those incidents are scattered across two or three times as many years. Going with my Mom to the NQA show in June is now a tradition, because we’ve done it every year since 1991. There’s nothing I do for Thanksgiving or Christmas that even comes close to that. Well, except for sending Christmas cards and buying presents. I suppose those two activities are my holiday traditions. Everything else is subject to change year to year.

This year for Thanksgiving we’re going to travel to my family gathering and I expect we’ll have a big, traditional turkey dinner. Other years, we’ve done other things. We’ve gone to eat with Mr. Karen’s family, either at his parent’s house or at another relative’s. We’ve cooked our own meal for two, with game hens as the main dish instead of a turkey. We’ve eaten at a restaurant with Fay and her husband. We’ve gone to the Lions game when the Vikings were the visiting team and had Silverdome hotdogs. We’ve eaten slopeside in Colorado and thanked Mother Nature for early ski season snowfall. The only common thread is eating, but that’s not something that counts as a tradition, since we eat every day of the year.

There aren’t a lot of common threads in Christmases past, either. Growing up, I remember at least one traditional nuclear family gathering, opening presents around the tree on Christmas morning (that was the year I got Elise). There weren’t a lot of warm family scenes like that, though. Changes in routine made my dad anxious, even changes that could be anticipated and planned for, like holidays, and anxiety made his drinking worse. My mom and brother and I spent a lot of Christmases away from my dad, both pre- and post-divorce. One year, we went to a fancy hotel near Chicago with another single mom and her kids. We gaped at the multi-story atrium and swam in the indoor pool and opened our presents in the impersonal and none-too-festive atmosphere of the hotel room, but it was fun and memorable. I suppose the common element in all those years is presents. There wasn’t always money for a lot of them, or even energy to wrap them, but there were always gifts. Mr. Karen and I have continued the gifts tradition in our married life together, but when and where we exchange them changes from year to year, similar to our ever-shifting Thanksgiving routine. We do usually send our cards out before Christmas, but at least one year we waited until after New Year’s because we were so busy in December. Maybe someday we’ll settle into a routine, but so far it hasn’t even been a goal. We decide every year what we want to do based on what time and money and opportunities are available. It’s good to have options.

I’ve ignored the comfort part of the question until now because that’s even harder for me to figure out than what holiday traditions I have. Comfort and the holidays don’t go together for me. When I think of comfort, I think of things that are soft and calm and quiet and easy. The holidays tend to be none of those things. There are noisy gatherings and bright decorations and lots of special events and much busy-ness. Now, I don’t have to participate in any of that, but it’s out there whether I join in or not. In a lot of cases I want to join in, even if it stresses me a little. It’s more comfortable to sit on the couch and watch tv than set up the Christmas tree and get the lights strung on it evenly and unpack all the ornaments and decide which ones to use this year and then reverse the whole process a few weeks later, but I enjoy the result, so that makes the work worth it (at least some years).

So, what have we decided here today? I don’t have many holiday traditions to begin with, and I’m not really comforted by any of them. That sounds a lot bleaker than it is. I usually enjoy the holidays, even with the stresses that come with them, but I get my comfort from my every day routines. Starting the day with a diet Coke and writing morning pages with one of my gel pens. Laughing with Mr. Karen at the tv shows we tape and watch together. Giving Bubba a yogurt drop when he perches on the side of his cage and looks too cute. The holidays are an opportunity to have a little extra fun, to do some things I wouldn’t do other times of the year, to celebrate. If they’re not always comfortable, well, so be it. I can relax the other ten and a half months of the year.

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