Christmas with the family was once a very formal affair.
In the 1880s, which is what this painting depicts, a young girl impatiently awaits the arrival of Christmas. While that certainly happens today, what kids are now consulting isn’t the analog face of a grandfather clock but rather the NORAD Official Santa Tracker via smartphone or tablet.
Holiday rituals become the cherished memories of yesterday that spread a little magic, connecting us to our history, while helping us celebrate generations of family.
Traditions are both important and meaningful as rituals that center us in a world that is changing faster and faster, a world that continues to “progress” at an unprecedented speed. Traditions focusing on family, special lavish dishes and heartfelt generosity bring meaning to our celebrations and help bond us to those we love.
“Several years ago Coleen started the tradition of the Polar Express for our grandsons," said Larry Katz, Esq., of Havertown. "This is the first year all three of them will be old enough to participate. In nearby Drexel Hill, there are several streets of row homes or twins where almost all of the neighbors vividly and extensively decorate their homes. Not only are the homes joyfully lit, but they include the inflatable decorations and those that move. On the Saturday before Christmas, one of the neighbors dresses as Santa and sits in front of his house greeting the kids, giving them candy canes, etc. We get Wawa hot chocolate, drive around and enjoy the decorations and then stop and visit Santa. Then, we return to our house and all sit together and watch the Polar Express.”
Traditions are an anchoring in a family, in a culture, and a way of having stability and an identity.
“We celebrate Diwali [the Hindu festival of lights] in late October / early November," says VJM graduate and Penn State student Navya Kotha. "We decorate the house with string lights and clay lamps with candles and at night we light fireworks and invite neighbors and friends to join in.”
“Every year, since my parents married in 1966, my Nana made hand crocheted white snowflake ornaments to hang in their tree," relates Mimi McHenry of Buckingham. "To this day, the tree is decorated with the snowflakes (100’s) and white lights that look like candles. Some mirrored boxes and a few other ornaments have joined the snowflakes over the years. My Nana passed away in 2017 at the age of 101 and we are so lucky to have the ornaments made from love, to remind us every year.”
The very first Christmas trees were oak. The evergreen replaced the oak because it remains green throughout the long, cold winter — symbolizing enduring and renewed life. Christmas trees sprouted from Germany in the 16th century when Christians started to bring evergreen trees into their homes and decorate them.
President Franklin Pierce, our nation's 14th president, brought the first tree, also known as the Blue Room Christmas Tree, into the White House in 1856. About 50 years later, President Theodore Roosevelt banned the Christmas tree from the White House, saying that cutting down trees harmed the environment.
“So, for me, the tradition that I continue from my childhood is the Christmas tree," said Marie "Marty" Shively of Bristol. "Many things have changed, including the lights & most of the old ornaments are now broken. The tree top of a paper machete choir-boy-moose continues to survive. The ornaments now are mostly new gifts & especially souvenirs from our travels. It now is a story book of the year’s experiences & we can relive all the places in the world we have been fortunate enough to visit.”
Traditional Christmas food, often particularly rich and substantial, certainly doesn't mean boring! Some of the mouthwatering, show-stopping, guest-pleasing entrees just may be the highlight of the season.
Whether cooking it, smelling it, eating it or planning it, food has always managed to comfort and soothe.
Perhaps it’s the chatter in the kitchen!
“One of my favorite family traditions is decorating the Christmas tree," said Avamarie Backich of Southampton. "But I never put on the pickle ornament because that is saved for Christmas morning for us to find hidden somewhere on the tree which is the German tradition on my mom's side, [the first one to find the Weihnachtsgurke, or Christmas Pickle gets an extra present]; whereas on my dad’s Italian side, we take part in the 7 fishes dinner on Christmas Eve.”
“While planning menus for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with my family, my oldest niece reminded me not to forget our oldest tradition which is my hot crab dip recipe," said Mary McIlvain of Bristol. "It's been an appetizer for many, many years.”
“My immediate family cooks together on Christmas Eve," according to Katherine Stabile Sood of Manhattan, New York City. "We each have a dish that we make for the meal. We cram into the kitchen trying to share the counter and oven space.”
Christmas is a nostalgic time of year.
“Christmas was meant for children, Children like you and me…”
“Every year we get dressed in jammies, load up in the car and drink hot chocolate while driving around town looking at Christmas lights," shares Kate Caimano Emerson of Severn, Md. "We also do new Christmas jammies every Christmas Eve, which I remember my mom doing every year as I was growing up!”
“The past few years have brought new traditions: Mass, opening presents, the manger scene," said Li Fisher of Bristol. "Now with three great-grandchildren, our Christmas is busier, and more lively. I appreciate the chaos and once again seeing little ones tear open packages, and added to our old traditions is the return of buying cute baby outfits and brightly colored toys. Now it’s time for the young ones to collect happy memories and celebrate the birth of Jesus.”
“On Christmas morning, my husband asks the children questions for a recorded update of their lives," shares Alyse Johnson of Wrightstown. "After gifts are opened, we look at the interviews from past years. It is amazing to see how they have grown throughout the years on this most joyous day.”
“Memories…pressed between the pages of my mind, sweetened through the ages just like wine....”
“My Mother, who’s Father died when she was in high school, used to tell me how much her Father loved Christmas," said Evamarie Konow-Backich, Esq., of Southampton. "The lights, the Christmas tree, the way everyone was uplifted with spirit of generosity, and most of all, the Nativity scenes, which he knew represented God's love for the world. In the late 1930's he bought the family a Nativity set, and it became the first thing he joyfully set up for Christmas and the last thing he wistfully put away at the season's end. Years later, my Mother, like everyone, had a million things to do around Christmas, but the one thing that she would always do herself, when it was quiet, was carefully unwrap the Nativity figurines and place them gently in the thatched "stable". This year it was my turn to unwrap those Nativity figurines that my Mother's hands had touched for the last time as she as she put them away to await their triumphant return at our next Christmas. This is now my tradition, too, in a quiet moment, as I lovingly unwrap those figurines that meant so much to my Mother, and my Grandfather. I am caught up in the bittersweet reminder of the generations that have passed, but also filled with prayerful anticipation, aware of life's promise and of that very First Christmas when Christ was born, and hope and joy came into the world.”
“Our family Christmas traditions are constantly changing, evolving from dancing and anxious children at the top of the stairs, to teens attending evening services and then being allowed to chose and open one present from their stocking before going to bed," relates Bill Slack of Hudson, Florida.
"Now in the present and perhaps the future too, grandma and grandpa wait by their phone to hear from their children and grandchildren who are spread from coast to coast and in the midlands too. Then Christmas evening grandma and grandpa will hold each other while looking in their eyes and thanking baby Jesus for allowing them to celebrate another birthday with Him.”
“I remember celebrating Christmas, and then Orthodox Christmas again on January 7th with my parents, Michael and Julia and all of my brothers and sisters and family who lived in the coal-mining neighborhood called Devens Hollow by the South Fork Creek," said Elizabeth Jane "Betty" Rodgers of Bristol. "We ate halupki [stuffed cabbage] and homemade blackberry pie and muffins and exchanged presents. I loved everything that I got!”
Betty remembers some very lean Christmases when the presents were scant. But the love that came with them was just as big, sincere and warm.
For some, each Christmas is memories in the making.
After all, Christmas IS the most wonderful time of the year, a celebration.
“We don't really have any specific yearly traditions for Christmas besides just some extra family time!” shares Erica Franzzo of Philadelphia.
No matter where you are in life, this holiday season is a great time to start NEW TRADITIONS.
Add one to your holiday celebration this year!
It is not that tradition is saying stop, or halt or think no more. Rather, it is saying, REMEMBER.
Remember an era that was, and is no more. Christmas is a many splendor thing.
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