When Tradition Gets Tossed Out the Window


Last year’s tree

I like traditions.  It’s the passing down of culture, stories, special moments from one generation to the next.  Holidays are a time where traditions are focused on most.  Holiday baking, present wrapping, trimming the tree, decorating the house inside and out, singing carols, watching old Christmas movies and stop animation movies, traveling to be with family, waking up early Christmas morning to open presents, Christmas breakfast, and Christmas dinner.

A friend of mine passed away back in 1998.  She had battled health problems for many years and I counted myself fortunate to have seen her just a few months before her passing.  She flew out to surprise me for our wedding reception.  In truth, she was the first person I cooked for with food restrictions when she first got sick.  I wrote down everything she couldn’t have and then dreamed up everything else she could have.  She was a great woman who left this world just a few days before Christmas.

I had difficulty getting excited about Christmas for a while after that.  I did the decorating and did the shopping, but I never felt the absolute glee in all the preparations through the years.

As soon as I started looking forward to Christmas again, Papa passed away just a couple of weeks before Christmas in 20o4.  I was in the middle of wrapping presents to take with us to spend what we all felt would be our last Christmas with him.  Papa, ever the jokester, decided he didn’t want a sober Christmas and went to be with Granny instead.  I can’t blame him.  I would have chosen to be with her, too.

We all still spent Christmas together and since Papa wasn’t around to keep booze away from, we all got a bit toasted.  In his honor of course.  He would have wanted it.

Somehow in the midst of preparations at the home of my grandparents, knowing I would never step in it again, and trying to enjoy being with my family, all I could hear was my mother saying things like, “We have to have the spiral cut ham.” “We have to have Dad’s egg nog.” “We have to make chili.”  I believe my aunties told her if she wanted it, she had to take care of it.  All I remember was thinking, “Are you serious?” and then wanting to smack her.  Instead, I had Chaz fix me another drink and I went back to watching movies with my siblings and cousins.

This was the moment where I decided that even though I have all these traditions from both sides of my family passed down to me, they really don’t mean a thing if I’m not enjoying time with my family.  It doesn’t matter that for the last few years I haven’t trimmed the tree.  It doesn’t matter that I’m spending less time trying to make the perfect bow and instead wrapping simply.  It doesn’t matter that I haven’t converted all the holiday recipes and that I haven’t had Granny’s Pecan Rolls for breakfast on Christmas in years.  What matters is that I get to spend the day with Chaz doing whatever we feel like doing.  What matters is that I cook what I want to cook and it doesn’t have to be the same thing every year.  What matters is I spend less time worrying and thinking about tradition than I do worrying about the time I have on special occasions.

Auntie in JFK Plaza, Philadelphia, PA

Auntie in JFK Plaza, Philadelphia, PA

This may seem huge to some of you who may stick to tradition every year, but at heart, as much as I love tradition, I like breaking them and making new traditions.  If Chaz and I had a real wedding ceremony there wouldn’t have been tradition.  No matching bridesmaids dresses.   No wearing white (I look awful if I’m all in white).  No grand churches.  No wedding march.  No being given away (it was the 20th century for goodness sakes).  When I was sick before the hypothyroid diagnosis, I went without throwing my yearly New Years Party, a tradition from Granny and Papa I had followed for years.  Even if we didn’t have people over because I was just too sick to entertain, I did make the traditional pot of chili.  I think that is one tradition I never stopped no matter what.  New Years day is chili.  I haven’t done the party in years because of work and even though I’m gone from that fun box store, I won’t be partying this year because I’m just too sick to entertain again.  Chili will be made.

No, the tradition frenzy is no longer in my life.  When I feel it start to come on I remind myself about what is really important about the holidays.  It is why I redeemed some miles and flew to Allentown, PA last month to spend a couple of days with one of my aunties.  I had to take advantage of any opportunity to spend time with any family members no matter how sick and exhausted I was.  This year is no different from any other and with all the losses in my life I’m holding on to my time with Chaz even more.   I have a heavier heart today because of another loss.  I’m imagining how two of my friends are going to manage their first Christmases without their wives.  I’m imagining how my auntie, uncle, and cousin are going to celebrate their first Christmas without Jonathan.  I’m wishing for my younger years of spending Christmas with either Granny and Papa or Grandma and Grandpa, but thankful for the years I had with them.

I’m thankful I regained control of my life and I’m taking back my health, yet again.

I’m thankful my doctor diagnosed me before I wound up in the hospital because I kept pushing and pushing myself.

I’m thankful for Chaz, who has been extremely supportive of me doing what I need to do for myself.

I’m thankful for my family and friends who have become family.

I’m thankful for you.

It is time to just be.