This is the time of year when we lay it on thickly. We do what we do each year, wanting to stick to rituals we grew up with or grew into, just because it’s always been like that.
At our school, there’s a tradition of each child receiving a gift from “Baby Jesus”, which is made by their mother. In the beginning I complied despite my misgivings, but as the children grew older and knew (of course) that it was me making everything, it just didn’t feel right anymore. Still it is a school tradition, despite the older children inevitably outgrowing it.
I was a bit dismayed to find out that I still had to do it this year, for my 5th grader, who has known for two years that Baby Jesus is his mother. So now it’s a funny thing at our home; it’s just one more gift from me, except that he gets to open with all the other kids in school, days before Christmas. Whatever this tradition had started out to be, it definitely no longer is. Maybe I’m complying because it’s all part of the Christmas Festival (alas, during Advent) that goes on yearly, but I think I have enough resolve to make this the last year, no matter what else everybody does. To me, when a “tradition” loses its essence, it’s time for renewal. Otherwise, what substance am I really giving my children? It would be different if I myself agreed with what it was, but I don’t. As I sewed this year’s gift, I knew it was the last.
I try to be aware of this at home, especially with two growing boys. One is a teenager and the other almost twelve. I try my best to see where they are, how we might tweak our own traditions to accommodate their own evolution. I am not going to keep them in babyland just because I think it’s magical. I think it’s a disservice to their becoming. As a parent, I need to acknowledge where they are and adjust. I suppose I’m lucky that I’m not sentimental by nature. I have it in moments and spasms, but I don’t think I’ve ever let it keep me from moving forward. I hope not. I’ve come to see that change is necessary–not always easy, but better than not changing at all.
This year I am surprised that my older son continues to voluntarily sit with us through the lighting of our Advent wreath, the stories, and the singing. He declined twice and I accepted it, but I also fully accepted it when he offered to read the story and when he told one from memory. I rejoice in his singing, even though it’s not what it used to be. Monotone is good! I have newfound appreciation of it! My younger son who has always been at the receiving end of this tradition, is now asking to read the stories as well. Why not? It’s nice for me to listen and observe the passage of time, happy to see the changes and see how my boys are growing.
It used to be that I decorated the tree myself and the children woke to the magic of everything suddenly appearing, but last year the children asked if we could all decorate the tree a few days early, because they always leave to see their dad too soon. Part of me wanted to keep things as they were because of my own attachments, but of course I relented. Our family situation warranted it and they asked. Last year, my teenager also asked to wake up with me to light the candles on our tree. Before that it was me and D. doing it before dawn so that he and his brother could wake up to the magic of Christmas morning by candlelight. There was a tiny death inside me at this change, but it is not for me to hold them back. At the beginning of Advent this year, my youngest asked if he could please also put the stones on our Advent table, as if to put a period at the end of his knowing. Yes, I said, though my insides shimmied. He very reverently did it. And that was that.
I realize that our traditions are evolving as we are, and shouldn’t that be? Life is constantly changing and it is really quite okay for tradition to move along with it. Traditions are not meant to be habit or they become empty and dead. That is when dissatisfaction creeps into our hearts and we begin to long for the spirit of Christmas. Movement is good! Change is fantastic! I think it is the only way to keep our traditions relevant so that they become real substance from which we can finally celebrate.