It’s as if God and tradition conspired to create the perfect kid-style celebration. There are the gifts (of course), the candy, the Claymation television specials. There’s the rip-roaring story of Jesus’ birth, filled with wicked kings, cranky innkeepers and awesome angels. It’s the only holiday that I know of that comes with its own action characters. Oh, sure, Nativity sets are meant to be more static displays, but what 6-year-old kid could possibly resist playing with those cows and donkeys?
But as a child, I think I enjoyed the family traditions the best.
Our family wasn’t perfect. But come Christmastime, we went all Norman Rockwell. I’d help my mom bake cookies (if eating the batter counts as help). I’d help my dad string Christmas lights (on commercial breaks during football games). We’d always have lasagna on Christmas eve, ham on Christmas Day. And we were one of those families—an oddity, even back in the 1980s—that would sit around the Christmas tree and read stories—things like Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Barbara Robinson’s the Best Christmas Pageant Ever and a horde of short stories. And afterwards, if we were feeling really inspired, we’d gather ’round the piano and sing Christmas carols.
Crazy, huh? Looking back, I’m a little surprised we didn’t pull taffy.
Times have changed, and every family’s a little different. If I ever suggested to my own kids that we should have a good, old-fashioned Christmas sing-along, they would’ve rolled their eyes and retreated to the sanctity of their Gameboys.
But most of the other traditions are still intact, including the reading. Even though my kids are older now and have pressing holiday engagements of their own, they still humor the old man and allow me to read to them. In fact, when I mentioned to my 19-year-old daughter that we should set aside a time to read this Christmas, she said she’d like to bring her boyfriend by—so that he could hear me read, too.
Christmas is a holiday tailor-made for children. And part of the season’s magic is that we can all sometimes see it through a child’s eyes again—even when we have mortgages and hair growing out our ears. And I think a lot of that stems from the traditions that we observe each December, the rote rituals we perform again and again. See, I’m not just reading to my children: Part of me is 7 again, listening to my own dad read to me.
As fathers, we’re caretakers of tradition. We help link generations through the rote rituals we perform. In the tradition of Dickens, tradition helps us see visions of Christmas past, present and future—and be haunted by the season’s most benevolent spirits.
What are some of your favorite Christmas traditions? Do you have any traditions you’d like to start?