As I get older it has become increasingly clear to me that things staying the same is really the exception and not the rule. And in fact, things staying the same is an illusion. Think back to Christmases when you were young: I’m sure it seemed like each year had a sameness to it, with consistent traditions, similar memories, and good feelings.
In reality, each year was probably very different as both children and adults matured, the gifts people wanted changed, and society’s influence on Christmas showed itself in our homes. If you were in a family that experienced shocks like divorce or a death, the changes were obvious, and probably still color your view of the holidays. For those of us lucky enough to have fairly uneventful childhoods, the changes were still happening, but were so gradual we didn’t perceive them.
I have wonderful memories of Christmas in my parents’ home as a child, as an adolescent, as a young adult, and as a middle aged person. But, those memories are all different. The players have changed as in-laws have come and gone and now more dramatically with my parents both having passed away. And the people who remain have surely changed in many ways. I know I have.
Maybe those traditions like making certain cookies or displaying special decorations or attending church on Christmas Eve are the glue that binds one Christmas to the next and to the next one after that. Such observances are often passed down from grandparents to parents and then to children who themselves become parents. These traditions stay the same while so much else changes.
In some ways those traditions can also remind us of the people who are no longer with us at Christmas. Those reminders can make us sad, but they can also warm us as we remember good times in the past.
As a religious holiday, Christmas is about the beginning of a story. As a cultural observance, we can mark the story of our own lives as a succession of Christmases, each one representing the last chapter for every year of our lives. Our stories ebb and flow with the good and bad that every life experiences, with Christmas providing an annual respite where we stop, celebrate, and contemplate.
For many families it feels that this year Christmas will be especially different. I know it will be for my side of our family. But, different can be good, and it can mean the beginning of new traditions to complement the old. It’s largely up to us.
I sincerely hope that your holiday – whichever one you celebrate – is wonderful. I hope your recollections bring you happiness, and that your celebration makes for good memories in years to come.