Opinion: Find your own true meaning of the holidays

My favorite time of the year is the Christmas season. And if push came to shove I would tell you that I love it because of the traditions it comes with. But as I get older I am coming to the realization that the word tradition is in the eye of th...

My favorite time of the year is the Christmas season. And if push came to shove I would tell you that I love it because of the traditions it comes with. But as I get older I am coming to the realization that the word tradition is in the eye of the beholder.

When I ask people about their own personal favorite holiday traditions I find that there are so many different ones for so many different people that I am simply coming to the conclusion that there is no one thing that qualifies as "the" holiday tradition.

There are traditions that are based in people's culture, family, religion or even economic status. Heck, you can break it down to the individual if you want to. But let's face it, it is not the so-called traditions that are important; it is what the traditions represent that seems to be what people try to hold on to.

In my family, we had our traditions. We wouldn't talk about Christmas until after Thanksgiving. And then on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, we would signal the start of the holidays by getting our tree.

As luck would have it, my dad then would spend most of the day trying to find the one decorative light that didn't work, only to throw up his hands in disgust. We would then all climb in the Vista Cruiser, with the snow chains on the tires, and go to the store to buy new lights. That's the one tradition my father passed on to me, minus the chains. All I can say is thanks, Dad. (The words he chose to use during his tangle with the lights never ended up on a holiday greeting card. Go figure.)


And let it be known we never had a fake tree in our house; my dad wouldn't hear of it. He used to say that we always go with paper over plastic. My dad worked at the local Piggly Wiggly grocery store, in the butcher shop, so anytime he could use a grocery store reference he thought it was funny.

As Christmas would approach we also had many traditions for the gift-giving rituals, not to mention the meal on Christmas Eve. We would go to church at 5 p.m. and then come home and open gifts. As a kid it would just about kill us to have to wait as the choir would sing that last song, and we always had to stand there and wait for the entire song to be sung before we could go. I always envied those who were allowed to duck out during the final prayer.

When we got home we would sit down to our traditional Christmas Eve meal. The base meal would consist of baked ham, frozen corn and au gratin potatoes (or as us kids liked to call them, "all rotten potatoes").

My mom always had plenty of eggnog in the fridge, along with some sort of nasty fish byproduct called pickled herring for my father. He would eat it on crackers, and as disgusting as it was, it still factors in as one of our traditions.

After the meal we would gather by the tree, and open gifts in order of age. We would start with the youngest and proceed to oldest. (I, being the baby of the family, always liked that rule.) My oldest siblings would separate the presents into piles and we would count the number of gifts that we each got. It always seemed strange to me that we always had the same numbers of boxes. I never gave my mom enough credit over the years, but she sure was a smart one.

Each year I would ask for a model train set, and each year would come and I would get ...something else. I spent the better part of the first 15 years of my life convinced Santa was hard of hearing. After all, I was good for goodness' sake, and I didn't pout all that much. I hadn't put a tack on teacher's chair, nor did I tie a knot in Suzie's hair. Oh sure, there was the time I climbed a tree and tore my pants, yet I never filled the sugar bowl with ants.

So I couldn't figure out why I hadn't gotten the HO-scale train set I had asked for. I chalked it up to the fact that the old man with the white beard must simply need some hearing aids.

Well, fast-forward 30-some years and I am proud to say that I finally get it. Some of the best memories I have of growing up revolve around Christmastime spent with family, and not the fact that I didn't get the present that I wanted. Just as the Grinch came to find out, I too have come to realize that maybe Christmas doesn't come from a store, and that maybe Christmas means just a little bit more. (You know they say that my heart grew three sizes that day.)


As a kid I thought that spending the extra time in church was nothing more then delaying the gift-opening process, yet today I have learned it is all about finding the true meaning of Christmas. As I watch my own children share in the excitement of the holidays, I know they are still at an age where for them it is only about what they get. I have to tell you that for kids ages 5, 4 and 1, I am OK with that for now, because as they get older it is up to us as parents to teach them what the true meaning of this spectacular holiday is all about.

So to my children, I say buckle up, because in the years to come we will not be leaving church until the final song is sung, and the echoes of that song have left the rafters. We will be sitting down to a meal that includes poorly constructed potatoes and some awful thing that only your dad likes. And also, please prepare yourself that you may not get "everything" that you ask for, only to find out years later that in fact you received so much more then you ever wished for.

And although Christmas is over for 2007 (and the relatives have headed home and you can't stomach the thought of any more leftovers) I still want to give you my wish for the holiday season. It's a wish that is simply that we all find the true meaning of Christmas, because for this one Who down in Whoville, there is no better gift to receive than being invited to carve the roast beast.

So let's all remember that Christmas Day is in our grasp, as long as we have hands to clasp.

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