Making traditions

Many of you responded so warmly to the quote that I shared yesterday from author Rebecca Parker Payne’s essay from 2012 that I have transcribed it here for you in its entirety. 

Making a tribe

by Rebecca Parker Payne

(The following essay has been retyped, and appears unedited as it first appeared in Kinfolk magazine in the winter of 2012.)

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(This photograph appeared in the original publication and was taken by Parker Fitzgerald)

Sometime in early December, somewhere within the hollers of the Blue Ridge Mountains, you could find us, wandering and weaving through long lines of pines and evergreens. Four siblings, our faithful dogs, and our daring captains: Mom and Dad. Our finest yearly tradition was born from the pinnacle of our mother and father’s parenting career – their discovery of Christmas tree farms deep along the sloping ridges of the mountains. A mere two hours from our home, the hillside farms were light-years from the commercialism and consumerism that we lived among.

So veery year we pilgrimaged to the Blue Ridge, to climb a mountainside and bring home the war-won tree. Our father, with verbal encouragement from his brood of chidren, pulled the tree down the hill ,across a tiny creek, and perched it like an arbor trophy on the top of our faithful suburban. I would be hailed “A Christmas victory!” by my father, despite the frozen, mittened hands, the carsick dogs, and the arduous process.

Traditions peppered our childhood lives ,and the holidays meant they were only more salient. Something to remember our time by, something to look forward to, something to have a that was special – something ours.

Our holiday season was characterized by these wild expressions of togetherness. In our tree travails, in our trips to Colonial Williamsburg to eat in the fire-lit taverns of yesteryear, in backing our apple-sausage, quiches, in our matching Christmas bell necklaces. My siblings and I jingled as we danced through the holiday season.

We grow up unaware that our yearly routines were sowing and tending traditions.
The rituals engulfed and enveloped us, and our youthful naïveté told us that this was just life – how our holidays were done. Only with age, and a healthy dose of selflessness, have we seen that this rhythm of delight and anticipation is the careful and thoughtful product of a family or parents what want to experience life with together.

Because now, so much of our holidays are only remembering. I remember the food, I remember the traditions, and I remember the traditions revolving around food. I remember a few of the gifts, but with the most clarity I remember carolling on the  back of a trolley, and tenderly pressing a cookie cutter into soft dough. I remember the brunches and the dinners, I remember the stillness, and I remember that feeling of warmth, closeness, unbounded joy. We number our memories, rewind and replay the moments that gave our holidays their meaning.

Now I live independently, away from my childhood home, I find myself expecting the same rhythms, that the ones that comprised my youthful holidays, to be the footprint of this year’s upcoming season. I remember it all, and still I want to be the same. But things have changed, I haven’t lived with my parents for years, which means they are no longer the leaders whey once were of my holiday season. I do not have the abundant free time I did as a child with which to make snowmen out of laundry detergents, or the hand-dip candles.

And this is where we are now, in this particular age. We are always busy, always moving from this to that, here to theres. We are young and filled. We understand why we had traditions, and should be thankful for them. We can even feel a draw to mourn the end of childhood traditions. All is right and expected of our growth and maturation, but we do not stay here. We are adults, and we are, in our best selves, independent, vibrant, thriving and capable.

Holidays can take us in two directions. We can buy the presents, go to the parties, open the presents, clean the tissue paper from the floor. A dutiful ascension to an idea, a complacency to the expected. A casual not to the time-honoured celebrations, created outside of us. And we drift around each other in this harried time of giving and getting, making and doing.

Or, we can take the tradition into our homes, draw them through the sieve of our personalities sprinkle them with whimsy, mold them to our own relationships. In doing so we hold a respectful ownership of the season, where it cannot exist outside of us. Indeed, we are the daring captains of wonder and nearness in this time. And through our effort, the holidays become intensely intimate, a seasonal experience tailored and defined by us who celebrate – our friends, our own children.

This is how we measure the depth of our bated breath. this is how we calculate the expectancy of our hearts. the existence of our families are not entirely dependent on the existence of such activities and traditions, but the sustenance of such rituals is the soil in which we cultivate a deeper sense of commitment, history, and meaning. a group of casual friends becomes a community, a family becomes a tribe.

A few months ago, I started a new family altogether. A small family with tender roots. A family of just me and my man. A man with his own traditions, his own idiosyncratic holiday routines, from growing up. He is the grown man that is memorialized in family photos up till about four years ago, sitting on his parents’ stairs with his brothers, each sibling wearing matching pajamas. And although we don’t have the same traditions, we both understand their role in making meaning of the holidays and our lives together. and we want to be a tribe.

In this place of adulthood, as a new family and as one-day future parents, we will cultivate a reason for hope and joy in all of our holiday seasons to come. I think that it will involve long tables of food, homemake eggnog, and cranberry pies. It will involve storytelling and song singing. It will involve days of baking and days of decorating. It will involve quietly lighting advent candles, and loudly spinning records. It will involve our community of friends and family, and it will be extravagant and hilarious and ours. It may even involve a borrowed tradition, a hauling of a tree down the side of a mountain. ♥

When I was young, my parents always had our grandparents to our home, as well as any neighbours who hadn’t left to see other family. On Christmas eve we would hang stockings and then change into a new pair of PJs before digging into a bowl of hot, roasted chestnuts – the tradition from childhood which I remain most attached too! (And my wonderful mother still facilitates! ❤ )

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The first Christmas after our daughter was born, my husband Jeff and I decided to invent ourselves a new holiday tradition, one which would be able to grow along with our new family, and be all our own. We chose to introduce an annual Christmas eve fondue into the already idiosyncratic pattern of our melded-family holiday traditions. So, for ten years now we have welcomed family and friends to share in our Christmas fondue.

Never will I forget the first time that our daughter partook in this sweet new-to-us treat. At the time we were living a long way from our parents, and my mother had send a beautiful hand-knit dress for our daughter to wear on Christmas eve. We welcomed in our friends – Jewish, agnostic, and/or  simple ‘holiday orphans’ like us – warmed the chocolate and sliced the strawberries, kiwi and bananas for dipping. And, with our daughter’s eyes widening to saucer-size, our newest tradition was born with that first ‘dip’.  Our beautiful little makeshift holiday-family watched with laughter, and glee as she consumed each subsequent morsel COVERING herself and her beautiful new dress in the process! (*I’ve searched but can’t find the photos!)

The communal nature of the fondue is what had first drawn Jeff and I to the idea, but it was definitely our daughter’s glee that night that sealed the plan. Four year’s later, our loving little boy joined our merry team and we continued to enjoy our annual fondues. Three years ago, we moved our little family from the West Coast of Canada, back to where my husband and I grew up on the East Coast. Now, ten years on, we share this tradition with our own parents and participate once again in those from our childhood homes. Our fondue has ‘graduated’ now from simple chocolate – to chocolate AND cheese! We plan to introduce broth, and have seafood fondue in the future – once we can trust that the flaming pots won’t end up pulled off the dinning room table by curious, and somewhat hight-challenged participants.. Wink!

In closing, it would be a privilege if you would share in the section below traditions which you have taken into [your] homes “drawn them through the sieve of [your] personalities sprinkled them with whimsy, mold[ing] them to [your] own relationships”.

Happiest of holiday making to you and yours!

PEACE be with us all.

x0, Danielle

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