Holiday Traditions and the Escape Clause

IMG_0060It’s pretty. It’s so pretty, the snow and the pink sunsets that begin as peachy blushes and then go full on rose. It’s lovely, the thought of time and hanging out and what, puzzles or board games or movies? It’s … vacation.

And I am, as is often the case, stressed about who’s coming and preparations and I don’t feel relaxed or cozy. I don’t feel “in the moment” other than the moment that is hand-gripped-tight-to-my-to-do list. I’ve added people and I want to make the stockings right and I put together calendars for the grandparents and godparents and it’s a good day of work to find and choose and order those photos and, and, and. The preparations rarely get simpler.

I wonder if I’m alone in this. There’s a way that I imagined more “quality time” and instead I feel often I plow through time (it’s dense; it’s like snow—to be cleared often not walked through when the walk through part is the most fun). I feel it maybe most around these holidays (and in summer). It might be a freelance thing (I was away three days this summer—and had an interview to do and write up during that brief window). It might be something else, like my comfort in routine. Busy as I am—I get the gifts, make the meals, entertain the people, go to the parties and performances and before that bring the teachers gifts and go to those performances and such, I feel adrift. Plus, I’m tired. All that’s required to have us “off” and in “holiday mode” is certainly not relaxing.

Tradition seems to require gifts. It requires big meals and big gatherings. My dream for one of these December breaks is not to uphold tradition, but to go to Florida. All of us could go, my peeps, and just … hang out. Or, as I said to my dear hubby during our long, late night drive to Philadelphia for Thanksgiving, maybe one year he and I could each could take turns: he’d do a holiday and I’d do another holiday and I’d take one off from family duty (picture me in my house on Thanksgiving furiously throwing things away; picture me walking on a beach on Christmas morning; I think it looks nice).

This isn’t and is about love, my wish to take a break. I love this family. I love them more than my desire to upend tradition, I guess. They love the traditions we’ve accumulated (the eleven year-old: “Even if Grandma’s not coming this year, can we have bacon?”). Traditions are their own routines; they are their own memory nuggets and they are powerful lures. I play the same music every year on Christmas Eve, a compilation of local artists doing holiday-inspired songs that went out of print for years (and just got reissued). I find the stockings. I really enjoy the kids’ excitement and the house full of people and food and all that wrapping paper. I love that we can make our house a place that is warm and happy and loud and welcoming. I guess I choose tradition after all. Still, Florida… There’s circularity to my escape dream that does not lead me to escape. Like one of those chutes you get to during the Chutes and Ladders game, the long one during a round you inevitably get it five times, I do end up with my cheery-as-I-can-muster face by Christmas.

Anyway, this is now, the time when there are smalls and larges and everyone lives here. It’s not forever. We lost my father-in-law, the original Christmas lover, and the Christmases directly after he died were hard and sad (so was the one before he died). I still see most vividly his rapt face and gleaming eyes, his robe wrapped round him, ready to open presents. His love for the holiday made me love it. And the kids love it the way they love it and so I choose to tolerate it and try to love it, too. I hope that one day, if they don’t want to hang onto traditions, I’ll let them go. Because someone someday is bound to lobby that we all find a beach over the winter holidays, right?

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This entry was written by Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

About the author: Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, Brain, Child Magazine, and Salon, amongst others. Follow her on twitter–@standshadows.

Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

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  • http://mytwicebakedpotato.com Mytwicebakedpotato

    Loved this…probably because it really resonated with me and my family this year :)