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Family traditions are a funny thing

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Traditions are a funny thing. You grow up in a world full of traditions – at home, in school, at church and in your community. Some people enjoy their traditions, and others want to change them up a bit.

My father was a minister so Christmas Eve we would go to church see the nativity scene, sing Christmas hymns and hear how there was no room at the inn for Mary and Joseph so she gave birth to Jesus in the manger. At the end of the service we were each given a candle and gathered in a circle as the lights were lowered. Your candle was lit by the person next you and you in turn lit the next person’s. Then we would sing “Silent Night.” As a child, holding that candle in the darkness was a special feeling. As I think back I can still feel the wonder of watching the flame and seeing the glow of the light on everyone’s face and feeling peaceful and full of love.

After church we would go home, the tree would be lit and we would open presents as my mom’s family had done when she was growing up. It was such a magical night.

My husband’s family tradition was to open presents on Christmas morning. He related to me the anticipation of sitting at the top of their stairs with his siblings, waiting for his parents to wake up so they could run down and open their presents – something I had never experienced.

We were able to merge our traditions easily, as we would celebrate Christmas Eve with my parents to experience the magical night, and then drive the hour or so to his parents’ home so when our boys woke up in the morning, they could also experience the excitement of Christmas morning.

Getting the tree was a tradition we started when our first son was just two. We went to a tree farm near us, found the perfect tree, cut it down and brought it home to decorate. As our family grew we continued that tradition as much as possible. There were a few years we didn’t cut our own but bought a pre-cut one from the local scout troop or school band trying to earn money for a trip. Of course, snowball fights and tossing each other in the snow is something our boys (all in their thirties) still like to do. We have started involving the next generation with that tradition as well.

Although our boys are grown now, we still enjoy getting our trees together at our favorite tree farm. The farm has a tradition of its own: taking a picture of the families with their tree and then having it put on the wall the following year. It’s always fun to find your picture on the wall and seeing how everyone looked.

Adrienne and Toph, continuing the tradition.

I remember my mom saying she didn’t like a real tree as she’d still find the needles months after taking the tree down. I love finding needles during the year, as it brings back the memory of Christmas.

When my husband and I married, my mother-in-law gave me a box of Dan’s ornaments from his childhood, most of them homemade. At the time I didn’t appreciate them, and they seldom made their way to our Christmas tree, tucked in the box and forgotten. As we started our family, I would make ornaments for the boys and I for the tree. Each year I would buy a dated ornament for them, and one that reminded me of them. When they went to school and started making ornaments there, our tree quickly ran out of space and some ornaments were left off in favor of others. As we put them on the tree each year we would recall where they had come from or who had made which one. It was then I realized how special Dan’s ornaments were, but when I found the box, a mouse had made a nest in it so most of them had to be thrown out.

A real tree for the kids!

When our boys left, I gave them their own boxes of ornaments. When I visited, I would look for them on their tree and felt sad when they weren’t there. Then I realized they were acquiring their own collections of memories.

My husband and I are very fortunate, as our sons and their families live within a few miles of us so we can carry on the tradition of Christmas Eve. As their significant others come with their traditions, we can pick and choose the traditions we want to keep while letting them create their own.

by Joan Kark-Wren

Merry Christmas from three generations.

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