In a burst of tired emotion, I expressed I was going to buy an artificial tree for Christmas and New Year this year. I was met with immediate and grave opposition. “You can’t do that.” “It’s against our tradition,” and “Bah, Humbug,” were the dismayed retorts.
Ordinarily, I am a keeper of traditions. Traditions foster a sense of shared identity. They are the unwritten beliefs and customs handed down from generation to generation, which we all knowingly or unknowingly adhere to in our daily lives, and especially around days of celebrations and festivities. They are the emotional fabric which binds us to our forefathers and makes us distinct from one another. They remind us of past challenges and of how far we’ve come. They make us stand out from the crowd individually and collectively.
Among the many traditions of my family gatherings was that special day designated to spending as long as was needed to select the tree that we all agreed on to be the one to grace our home. Such was the tradition started when I was a child. We lived in the arid sandy region of the Kuwaiti desert where neither fir, nor pine grew; but around Christmas, large branches of these trees were flown in from abroad to serve as trees for our homes. We waited impatiently for that day when the “trees” would arrive. We would go through the selection process accompanied by dad, bring the “tree” home on the roof of his Chevy, drag it, prop it up in a corner of the living room, and with major help of both parents we would hang the decorative glass balls in and around the sprigs of branches (breaking a few in the process). The semblance of snow was created either by large wads of cotton pads or stringed popcorn of which half would be consumed in preparation while mama sang Joy to the World. Last but not least we would clip candle holders onto the edge of the sprigs to be lit two minutes to midnight on New Year’s Eve. At midnight, the lights went out; the New Year was greeted with good wishes, a prayer and kisses all around after which the candles were blown out signifying our wishes carried up to heaven with the rising smoke they exuded.
The one thing my grandparents, parents and I, in turn, enjoy about this end-of-year family tradition is how our children have really taken it on as something that has a significant meaning for them as well (with quite a few modifications and today’s safety “upgrades”). Although my grandchildren might not be able to relate to the history behind this tradition, it still hasn’t stopped from becoming an activity that helps to reinforce the shared identity that defines our family. After all, unlike resolutions where the goal is to change something about ourselves we don’t like, traditions foster a sense of optimism because they remind us of a time from our past which showcased our resolve and determination to press ahead. By encouraging the celebration of traditions within our families, we not only remind ourselves of the challenges we faced in the past, but also of how we were able to overcome them, often with fewer resources than we have today.
We all need some grounding in our modern world. This year, that grounding came to me through the disappointed voices of the family’s long chain of people that form the natural link connecting past with the present. Who would I be without the traditions that are carried down from generation to generation? Where would I be without the stabilizing effect of holiday traditions which has carried me through all times? What would happen to the stories I’ve passed down and handed over to the children for safe-keeping if it were not for the great comfort these traditions gave them? Traditions are like anchors in our lives. We need to know that some things never change as we cling to well-defined rituals that give us a welcome sense of order and a security of knowing exactly how the season will unfold.
As we transform our homes into winter wonderlands and our kitchens into holiday bakeries, sing Christmas carols, drink hot chocolate, eat popcorn, wrap a gift or two, light candles, share stories, hugs and kisses , may we enrich each holiday with the memory of all the Christmases that have gone before.