Saturday, December 7, 2013

Christmas Traditions

Growing up I thought traditions were handed down generation to generation and were important to maintain.  I did not think that new traditions should be adopted.  In my mind, only the traditions that were handed down from generation to generation could be called "tradition" and should be honored.   Yes, I can be a bit stubborn in thought, and I needed a lesson.  Life, of course, provided it.

In 1993 my first marriage ended.  The ensuing years were entwined with court date after court date.  The sudden change to life as a single parent with pre-teens made everyday living a bit challenging.  For a time, my children and I lived with my parents in their home. We were gladly welcomed.  I had never envisioned myself needing to move home at 34 with children in tow, yet there I was.  That Christmas I helped my Dad hang the red blinking bells that have been adorning the porch of our family home since I could remember. In the spring of 1995, my parents wanted to try living in a new town without selling their current home. 

My youngest sister and niece, myself and my children, joined together to rent the house from our parents while they rented a house in the mountains.  My budget, much like my sister's, was tight and nearly non-existent.  We both had to be creative to make each paycheck stretch while bills were paid, the heat was kept on, fuel was in the car to get to work, the kids had clothes, and there was food on the table.

For the first couple of years as a single parent, Christmas had been supplemented by parents decorations.  I didn't need to have any, as Mom and Dad had quite a stash from years of Christmas trees and four daughters with various crafty interests, plus Mom's handiwork.  The only problem in 1995 was the family tree had moved to the mountains.

The first Christmas in the house with my sister found us both setting up Christmas trees - hers was upstairs, mine was downstairs.  I wanted to find a way to bring holiday traditions for my children on a scant shoestring budget.  There was an immense amount of change in a short time for our entire family.  It was the first Christmas without Dad, as he passed away that summer.  I was compelled to move ahead, yet needed to keep as many traditions as I could for my children and myself as a means to keep my life together. 

I was able to scrape the funds together for a fresh tree and a new tree stand.  For our family, the Christmas tree was set up after Thanksgiving, but before my older sister's birthday.  In 1995 the tree was much smaller, but it was still fresh and it's aroma filled the living room.  It only took two strands of multicolored lights to decorate.  Because were left with very little to start our lives over with, the ornaments for the tree were pretty sparse, and  there was not enough in the budget to completely outfit a Christmas tree.

I knew there were possibilities, I just needed to figure it out while not spending a lot of money.  When I wandered into a fabric shop the week before Christmas and found 2" red round jingle bells on the clearance table, ideas popped.  The red metal bells made great substitutes for glass ornaments, and I loved the idea of "ringing in the season" with red bells on the tree.  It reminded me of the red bells that hung on the house those many years.  Dad also had a favorite yuletide wall hanging in which a rather red-nosed reindeer holds a banner that reads "Bingle Jells."  A new collection of Christmas ornaments ensued in the form of jingle bells.  New tradition #1 came to fruition.

With some tinsel, the tree was looking pretty good, but the decorations were still sparse.  A craft store had a sale, and it was close to work.  A lunchtime trip yielded spools of red, green, and gold ribbons which held "Merry Christmas" and "Seasons Greetings" tidings.  At 3 rolls for $1, I could easily afford a few spools.  While the kids were at the holiday dance for school, I cut the ribbons into 10" lengths.  I spent the evening hand tying bows onto the tips of the branches of the tree, filling in the sparse decorations.  The bows went perfectly with the jingle bell ornaments.   New tradition #2 was born.

Shopping the clearance table in the craft store that day brought a few punched paper cross-stitched Santa ornament kits to be stitched.  Six Santa's from different countries were quickly cross-stitched on my breaks and after work to hang on the tree.  This became new tradition #3.

As you can summize, my ideals of 'tradition' quickly went by the wayside.  Why hold on to something that clearly won't work for you?  On the other hand, why let go of the familiar and honored traditions.  I'm a Libra, therefore I like balance in my life.  I found it by shedding a preconceived ideal.

This year marks the 50th year the red blinking bells have welcomed Christmas in my family's home, a tradition now reflected by the red bells hanging on my tree.  I still hand-tie bows on the tree as a reminder that no matter how bad things seem to be, there will be a way to "fill in the holes".   There are 12 different Santa punched paper cross-stitched ornaments representing different countries and folklore. There is a small herd of clothespin reindeer.  There are angels made from beads and safetypins, with others stitched in traditional norwegian hardanger.

To a younger me who thought "You can't have 'new' traditions"  I can only say this:  You silly girl  Just wait.