As I’ve mentioned before, my childhood was a bit unorthodox. We didn’t celebrate Christmas or birthdays or any holiday (with the exception of Thanksgiving) and I always felt left out when my friends returned from winter break with new clothes or at the least cool holiday stories to share. So when I was old enough, I tried to make up for lost time. I went overboard buying my sisters and brother Christmas presents and when I had children of my own, I wanted to do everything I felt I’d missed out on in my own childhood and that included all the traditions that went with a typical family Christmas.
I had to rely on my husband’s knowledge and experience when it came to traditions because he’d grown up in a household much like that of most people. We quickly adapted as a young couple with our own traditions, though we certainly didn’t realize what would stick and what would go by the wayside as we attempted a lot that first year.
Our first Christmas as young parents, we had to start from scratch in the decorating department, which was a little overwhelming when I realized how much went into decorating a Christmas tree. We didn’t have a single bulb or light to string on our little tree but we had fun going to the store and purchasing what would become our stable of decorations. Admittedly, our first tree was a little bare, as we couldn’t afford much, but I didn’t care. I was in love with the process and excited that we had a tree to call our own.
My husband told me how when he was a kid his dad was in charge of stringing the lights and his mom would decorate so I thought we should continue that tradition. I was eager to adapt this tradition with a few alterations.
Confession: I love traditional Christmas music. There’s something about it that sparks a nostalgic feeling that never fails to fill me with the warm fuzzies. So, as John started hanging Christmas lights, I rushed to put on a CD of Christmas music that I’d purchased specifically for this purpose. I can tell you, in that moment, I was in pure bliss; so much so that tears sprang to my eyes. I had what I’d always wanted: a true holiday tradition-in-the-making. As my young son watched with wonder and I happily hummed along to cherished holiday tunes, I knew from that moment forward, every Christmas would be like this and I counted my blessings that I’d found the man who would always share this with me and our children.
Okay, now, cue the cursing.
Yes. You read that right.
You see, my husband isn’t the most patient man. And apparently, hanging lights is a bit of a chore.
After a few failed attempts of getting the spacing just right, he started assaulting the tree in his attempt to free the lights from the branches. Needles went flying and the cursing got louder.
This was not what I’d imagined. But I was not to be deterred from my holiday spirit. I turned the music up louder. We just needed an extra dose of holiday cheer and what better way to find that holiday cheer than listening to a choir singing “O Holy Night,” right?
Well, apparently, Christmas music doesn’t spark the same nostalgia for my husband. Suddenly, the cursing was accompanied with dark, less-than-Christmas-y-glares, and a few threats to give me the lighting detail. I didn’t care. I met his glares with a smile and started to sing but I’ll admit a part of me worried that maybe I’d never get the happy holiday experience I’d always dreamed of because this was not how I envisioned it.
I’m happy to say we survived that first Christmas — barely — and many more. John asked me to marry him that Christmas morning. I guess he didn’t hold our Christmas tree decorating fiasco against either of us.
Here’s the funny thing: the yelling, the glares, the cursing at the tree and the lights, my ignoring all of that grumpiness by blasting Christmas music — that IS our tradition.
My husband is still an impatient man. But now he has two strapping sons to help him prep the tree and hang the lights. I have Christmas music on satellite for an endless stream of holiday cheer (which always causes our teenage sons to groan and roll their eyes). And we have our daughter who loves Christmas enough for all of us and delights in every tradition we’ve created for our little family.
And this year as we finished trimming the tree, hanging various homemade ornaments that come with stories made by little hands, I realize I finally have what I always dreamed of for my children: a family Christmas tradition that is custom-built just for us and that’s what makes it special and irreplaceable.
Kim Van Meter is a staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader, The Riverbank News, and The Escalon Times. She may be reached at email@example.com or by calling 847-3021.