Holiday Traditions

Holidailies Prompt: “Holiday preparations and traditions: How many are for you and how many are obligatory or remembrances?”

In my memory, preparations for the holiday season are a lot more involved than anything that we do today. My family used to host large, lavish parties for our group of mostly expatriate friends when we lived in Belgium and my mother would often be getting ready for those festivities for weeks in advance. There was fudge to make and figgy pudding to put outside to set, table gifts and decorations to buy, costumes for our drama to sew and as the big day got closer, more and more food items to store until the fridge and freezer were bursting at the seams.

My jobs during this time often involved polishing the silver, folding napkins and helping mom to stir bowl after bowl of dough or batter in between running rehearsals for our little Night Before Christmas-type dramas. One year she made lemonade from scratch, another she made eggnog and there was punch one year as well. The lemonade as I recall was the death knell for our first Apple II. Every party eventually involved hordes of kids between the ages of 2 and 15 playing hide and seek up and down the stairs and lining up to play endless rounds of computer games on the Apple. Everyone took turns, playing until our avatars got killed and the huddle of kids around the machine watched intently while munching on goodies from the party. The year of the lemonade, someone’s elbow got jostled and lemonade wound up in the keyboard and despite a thorough cleaning it never really worked right again. After the lemonade incident, food was banned from the computer desk.

The big Christmas or New Year’s party with multi-course dinner and some form of dramatic presentation by us kids became a tradition that was nigh unto obligatory. After we moved back to the United States, my family had just one Christmas party once we’d moved into our new house and then we never hosted one again. Visits to our neighbors’ parties became customary instead and eventually obligatory as time went on and our relationships drifted.

The traditions that Sabs and I keep are largely the ones that make me happy and that we’d like our kids to enjoy. Being a chef means that Sebastien has to work through all of the major holidays so our celebrations are low-key and aimed at fun for Vic and Julien. We get a tree, we hang the stockings and we try to sit down for a meal together, be it breakfast, lunch or dinner, either on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day depending on whether or not Sabs has either of the holiday days off at all or only a morning in which to celebrate.

In the past we’ve split our celebrations between our two families: traditional/obligatory Christmas Eve dinner and present-opening with Sebastien’s family, traditional/obligatory Christmas Day present-opening plus breakfast and then another Christmas dinner later in the day with my family. While I enjoy the good meals and the present-openings with both families, I do wish that we could combine the two somehow if we wind up being able to resume those traditions at some point in the future.

I have fond memories of those big parties in my past, but these days I like our pared down, relaxed Christmases a lot better. I think that half of the attraction of the large celebrations was the good company, the time spent with friends. As I get older though, I’m finding that throwing a big party isn’t necessary for having good company and time spent with friends. It’s just as fulfilling perhaps even more so, to have more than one smaller gathering where good food and good conversation flow abundantly and lend themselves to renewing connections and friendships and sharing joy.

Sharing the joy is what Christmas really means to me, so any tradition that evolves from that is good in my book.