Holiday traditions are a beautiful thing to behold. They bring families together year after year and build memories that last a lifetime, generation after generation. Many of us may not know how and when they started; we just do them.
This Christmas season, take a moment to pause and reflect on your traditions and try to remember when you first experienced them. It is a fun and sense-heightening journey and one that even COVID cannot take away from us. What is it that brings Christmas memories or holiday traditions flooding back to your mind?
When I was growing up we always attended the midnight candlelight Christmas Eve service and would get home exhausted yet wildly excited about the next morning. On Christmas morning we lined up at the top of the stairs in order of our ages, youngest to oldest, and waited with great anticipation for my Dad to turn on the Christmas tree lights. Once they were on, we raced down the steps each trying to beat the other one to see what Santa brought. To this day that sense of delight is still palpable.
Sometimes it takes a minute for a tradition to take hold. But once it does, which usually involves getting older and having children of your own, you see the importance of keeping traditions alive as well as creating your own.
As a young adult, hearing my Great Aunt Elizabeth first read and later recite by heart “A Cup of Christmas Tea” was initially something that I did not fully appreciate. Yet, I now consider it one of our family’s most time-honored traditions. It is a story of a young person’s reluctance to visit an old relative, but once he does and shares a cup of Christmas tea, he is reminded that sharing is the very heart of the Christmas spirit.
My children used to wonder why we collected silver bells, nutcrackers, Christmas picture frames, Christmas china and the like until they reached an age to appreciate it. Even though they have not quite yet forgiven me for making them don Santa caps and deliver Caramel Soaked French toast for Christmas morning, first while I drove them house to house and then when they could drive themselves, it is one of my favorite traditions. And I think they actually liked it, too.
The melding of holiday traditions is like preparing good food. There are different flavors, aromas and textures which all work together to make a delicious meal. Much like melding holiday traditions when you are from different countries. Basia (Bash-a) McHugh is originally from Poland, though she left at a young age. Her husband is from England. They have lived in Greenville for decades and raised three children here. They still celebrate the holidays with their home country traditions and are thrilled that their grown children and their families are carrying them on. “After all, a main reason for having traditions is to keep strengthening the family bond and to have something in common that can be passed down from generation to generation,” says Basia.
In the Polish tradition, she says, “the main celebration was always on Christmas Eve, called Wigilia (Vee-gilia).” At 7 p.m. on Christmas Eve with the first stars, the children got to see the Christmas tree fully decorated for the first time. I still remember the excitement,” she says fondly.
Before everyone sat down for Christmas Eve dinner, which consisted of twelve dishes symbolic of the twelve days of Christmas and the twelve apostles, the mother of the family served oplatek (aw-pwatics). Everyone received a piece of this wafer along with a wish for a Merry Christmas. Dinner was then served course by course, followed by the opening of presents and then attending the midnight Christmas Eve service called Pasterka (pas-ter-ka), the Shephard’s Mass. “I remember walking in the snow in the mountain village and hearing Christmas caroling all along the way,” she recalls and says laughingly “everyone had been well-fed and had plenty to drink so the Christmas Carols were sung with great gusto.”
“Since we have a Polish Christmas Eve, we have an English Christmas Day”, she says. This includes a traditional English dinner of stuffed turkey, Christmas Pudding that is lit and minced meat pies. “But before have dinner, we hold hands, one under the other, and pull the poppers open and put on our hats. It is quite festive!”
Traditions are important because they bind family, making them closer and more appreciative of their faith, background, and family history. Whether your tradition is collecting nativity scenes, making everyone’s favorite foods, watching a Christmas movie, finding the pickle ornament on the tree, traveling to see relatives, adopting a family or feeding the homeless, cherish it and pass it on, along with the story of how it all started.
My Christmas decorations and traditions now include menorahs, dreidels and latkes as reminders of Hanukkah and my husband’s family traditions. The best part of having traditions is having someone with whom to share them. Whether you are with one other person this season or a houseful, be sure to sit down and share a cup of Christmas tea.
This article originally appeared on Greenville News: Talk Greenville: This Christmas take a moment to reflect on traditions