Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Barney is Part of My Christmas Culture

We're all molded by our experiences and shaped by our environments. I'm not different. My parents became Jehovah's Witnesses when I was about eight and my brother was five. We stopped celebrating all the normal American holidays. We didn't just put the practices on hold, our house was purged of any items involved with Christmas, Easter, Halloween, etc.

Christmas mornings with my family are wonderful. We usually spend them with my husband's parents and his sister's family. In a beautifully decorated home, we share gifts, laughs and participate in their grand and not so grand traditions. I am very grateful to be included in their celebration.

Through no fault of Cowboy's family, I often feel like an outsider. Like an orphan invited out of kindness but never fully belonging. Though I cook and bake for the season and I know it's appreciated, I have often felt that I didn't really add anything to the festivities. There often seemed to be something held back, some parts that we all knew I couldn't fully appreciate because I wouldn't get it.

This year has been different. I've stopped moping. I gave myself a mental and spiritual smack to the back of the head. My family--Cowboy and my children and I-- have our own very rich, rather unique traditions. I realized I short-change us when I discount the little things we do. We don't make a big (expensive!) pilgrimage to Rockefeller Plaza. We fill our Netflix list with Christmas movies and watch them as a family. This year I had the privilege of introducing my 15 yr old son to Clark Griswold in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.

I've learned that very few people stick to a set traditional plan each and every year. The Gilmore Girls taught me that rigidly adhering to such a schedule can rob some of the joy and spontaneity from the holidays. Some years I bake dozens of types of cookies and candy. Some, I simply bake thousands of one type. Nobody ever complains when you hand them a cookie.

I finally understand that it doesn't matter how much or how little money a family has, the point is the time you spend, the laughs you share and the love you feel. The year I volunteered full time in a food-bank, working 40 hour weeks leading up to Christmas taught me that you don't have to speak the same language to be comrades. You don't have to worship the same way to help others.

I've learned that what's important to your family is what matters, not some grandiose idea someone constructed of what the holiday ought to be. If it's important to your children to watch the Barney Christmas special (even when they're 18 years old), then that's your tradition. It has as much value as anybody's stately procession to Midnight Mass.

As I've mentioned a couple times (to everyone who will listen, shouting on the street corner, bugging people on Face book, Tweeting ad nauseum), my brother Alex, sister in law Deena and niece Lorelai are coming for Christmas. I'm serving a completely non-traditional Christmas Eve meal of smoked ribs and lasagna. I have no set plans for the evening or the morning that follows; it's our first Christmas together in 29 years. Over planning might spoil it all. I intend to hug them, love them and enjoy every minute our families spend together.

I grew up. I started celebrating again. Every time we did something that seemed silly but turned out great, we added a thread to the fabric that makes up our family's traditions and culture. It's a fabric we've woven ourselves. The lives we've made from it fit just right.

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