December 25: Traditions: Do you follow old traditions or do you work to create new traditions? What role has tradition played in your life over the past year? Are there traditions you hope to create or embrace in 2013?
In my family, we have tons of traditions. So many that I think we have trouble distinguishing what is tradition and what is not.
For example, “The Birth of the Stuffing” at Thanksgiving:
(Believe it or not, these are from three separate years.)
To some extent, I have inherited this tendency to make a tradition out of things (everything). It is a way of putting down roots; creating spaces and places. Naming a place in time. It is a way of being a latter-day Henry(etta) Hudson, I suppose. And I mean that quite literally. I mean that I charted course for one place, and wound up somewhere completely different, but I am perhaps laying down the foundation for much greater things to come.
That said, whether my family choose to admit it or not, we’ve never had a lot of traditions around Christmas, and I’ve spent only two Christmases with them since 1998. There’s a lot to love about the holidays, but the expectations of the season make me uncomfortable. And Christmas with my ex-in laws crushed my spirit.
As Andrew and I were splitting up, and after I got divorced, I made a tradition of taking Christmas for myself. I’m not sure my family liked this at first, but I think they’ve come around to it.
I spent that first year in the Bahamas with dear friends. We drank and danced all night; burned a turkey. I made my lethal mulled wine for everyone (the secret is that it’s full of Maker’s Mark). All my expat friends could handle their liquor like it was nothing, while I slept through Christmas and Junkanoo.
The next year I took the only real thing of value I got out of my divorce — the oodles of Amex points — and went to Chile; primarily to Santiago, but also to Valparaiso and Easter Island. The court had signed off on the papers on the first of December, and it wasn’t until I was on the plane that it occurred to me that I was en route to a foreign country where I spoke almost none of the language, to spend ten days alone. My divorce was final, and I was really, truly, flying solo.
I finally took off my wedding band.
The funny thing was that I’d barely worn it when I was married, and yet, it was so hard to part with it once I’d lost the right to wear it.
Last year, I went to Australia to be with my best friend Jade, and Das, and Jade’s brother and sister-in-law. I suppose last year counts as a family Christmas. But still…
And now, I’m in Thailand.
When I called my parents to wish them a Merry Christmas this year, they were drunk and jolly and teasing me about my travels, but in good spirits about the whole thing. I’m not sure whether they appreciated that my chronic absence from their Christmas dinner is the hallmark of their positive contributions to my life, but I will tell you that it is.
Tradition, I think, is comfort, and it is courage. To create sameness in the face of the mundane is comfortable — and that is good. To create routine in the face of change or trauma or tragedy is courageous — and that is sometimes necessary. I was raised in a way that empowered me to forge my own path and that taught me to say: This is what I need for me! even when those words were precisely the ones I wasn’t able to utter in my marriage or at home.
I think these traditions I have learned and gained and am growing on my own are good enough for me, and me alone.
Maybe that sounds selfish; maybe that sounds mean. But I think it means that we come together for the things that are right for us as a family, and in the gaps and spaces and times that are right, we go forth in space and we do things on our own.
It means that I wear the traditional turkey hat and dutifully snap the pictures of The Birth of the Stuffing each November, and it means I have the courage to give myself the space I need at Christmas.