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December 18, 2014

The Importance of Christmas Traditions

darondickens-300“Did you hear that?”

“It’s nothing; go back to sleep.”

“Daron! I. THINK. IT. WAS. SANTA!!!”

I was seven. My brother had woken me up, and I was smack dab in the middle of one of my favorite Christmas traditions: The Christmas Pallet.

“The Christmas Pallet?” you may be asking. “Were you living in a warehouse at the time? Did your parents make you sleep on top of wooden pallets to simulate the manger in the Nativity scene? Is that why you’re a therapist now?”

No, don’t call child services just yet.

The Christmas Pallet was our parents’ brilliant attempt to maximize the unbelievable anticipation of Santa’s arrival while also solving a practical dilemma. You see, every Christmas Eve my entire extended family would come together at my aunt’s house to enjoy the festivities, spend the night, and then wake up in the morning to see what Santa had brought us. The problem was that, like most families, my aunt and uncle did not live in a mansion. There was a limited number of beds.

So, the great practical solution was to create a giant sleeping area in the den made of blankets and comforters and sleeping bags and pillows — really just about anything fluffy would do. This huge, make-shift mattress would span the full length of the den — from one side to the other. All the brothers and sisters and cousins found their spot on this massive pallet to attempt to sleep…with the Christmas tree and fireplace (Santa’s favored entry point) on just the other side of that wall right there.

I say “attempt” because you can imagine what happened. With all these little bodies primed with both excitement and sugar we ended up listening for Santa, speculating on his estimated time of arrival, talking through our lists of desired toys, and just generally being giggly kids.

This is the place of so many of my fondest childhood memories.

Years later, after I moved away from the area around my family to make my way in the “real” world, I attempted to re-create the Christmas Pallet in an effort to stir up some of the comforts of home. Yes, I made a gigantic pallet in the middle of the living room of my apartment. Sadly, a 20-something sleeping on a pile of blankets by himself didn’t quite have the same effect.

All these years later, I think this may be the one thing I’m most excited about sharing with my kids and our families as we all have kids of our own. It was the most amazing expression of the community our families combined to create. It was the kick-start of bonding with family members who didn’t see each other much during the year, but who wanted to really connect around a special holiday. It combined all the fun of Santa and Christmas with the specialness of living side-by-side as we grew older together each year.

There are many other traditions that my family shared, from having tamales for our special Christmas Eve dinner (to honor my uncle’s Hispanic heritage) to having the youngest member of the family pass out the presents from under the tree. Traditions like these anchor us in time. They allow the past, and the present, and even the future to come together for a few moments — even if it’s just for one day a year.

This anchor of tradition not only includes the things we do, but also the generations of families and friends who share in these traditions with us. Adding new traditions as new families form through marriage and through the birth of children can allow a common identity to emerge from within this long-standing, multi-generational span.

In a time that can often be busy and filled with running this way and that, special traditions, however small, can be a way to allow us a figurative deep breath, bringing us peace and helping us focus on the people who are most important in our lives.

As you consider the role traditions have played in shaping your family’s identity and culture, here’s a list of questions to think through:

  • What are some traditions that you remember when you were a kid?
  • Why were they special to you?
  • Ask the oldest member of your family if there are any traditions that they had when they were kids that your family no longer observes.
  • Now, ask the young kids in the family what parts of the Christmas season they enjoy most.
  • Is there an element that they shared which you didn’t even realize you’re doing year after year?
  • Is there an element that they shared which could become a solid part of your holiday tradition?
  • What tradition would you like to become a special part of your family over this holiday season?

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