"The only thing that doesn't change is change," my oldest son once said. If changing traditions is hard for you to embrace, here's one way to take the sting out of the inevitable. This piece appears in this month's Memphis Parent.
Being the youngest of eight, my Christmas traditions have always been packed with people. Now, as the mother of ten, the holidays still call for a crowd. If I ever meet a lonely Christmas, I suspect I will have to find the nearest throng and join in.
Though I have never been alone at Christmas, there does have been seasons when everything changes. Parents age, families relocate. It’s time for new traditions, and the transition can be emotional and draining. It was during one of these times of adjustment, however, that we found a tradition that has endured.
When we left Memphis to relocate to Vermont over a decade ago, friendships formed instantly. I was unsure of what those Vermonters would think of our big southern family, but they quickly embraced us, even calling our southern twang charming. A Christmas Eve open house seemed like the obvious answer to the search for a new tradition. Our church held Christmas Eve services, after all, and folks could come eat before or after church. A new tradition was born, with a Vermont white Christmas almost guaranteed, to boot.
In the five years we lived in Vermont, we only missed one year of the Christmas Eve Open House. My father had passed away the previous November and I was expecting our ninth child. I just didn’t feel up to it, as it was one of those transitional seasons of grief and change.
That year, then nine year old daughter, Emma, suggested a family Christmas Eve talent show.
The talent show happens right after our traditional holiday menu of ham on Christmas Eve (followed by my grandfather’s bean soup on Christmas Day). The Christmas Eve spread is formal: we crowd around the table, join hands, say grace and savor the moment. Then the talent show takes precedence.
First up, Mom Dot’s lengthy passage from Macbeth (which she can still quote at age 88):
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Her hands slicing through the air, the emotion in her voice; it is quite a sight to behold—compelling, convincing, poignant.
When, finally, upon exiting the stage, she turns and declares, “I don’t believe a word of that.” While I am glad she is more optimistic than Shakespeare, I love the fact that Grandma’s recital will be etched in the minds of my children.
And last year, then seven year old Silas donned a white lab coat and over sized glasses, setting up a make shift lab in front of the fire place. Upon opening his act, he began scurrying around his laboratory, then looked up and gasped.
“Oh, hello. I didn’t see you there.” He pressed his glasses higher on his nose. “My name is Dr. Silas Sims, and today we will be conducting a science experiment.” He then proceeded to mix vinegar and baking soda and got the expected result—and some unexpected applause.
Fourteen year old Cory, whose real talent is on the football field, showed us the art of speed-eating chocolate bars. Ten year old sister Dorothy, followed with a gymnastics/dance routine. More applause.
Mary and Emma, then 15 and 17, and just 17 months apart, performed “Sisters” from the movie White Christmas, using branches form our tree trimming as their feathery fans.
Matt and Ben, both feeling liberated by their break from West Point, broke out the musical instruments and inspired us with worship songs.
As a spontaneous surprise (even to my husband), my husband and I did a rendition of “I Got You Babe”, karaoke style. The kids howled, secretly filming it. (And it shall forever remain a secret).
This Christmas, all 10 kids and my daughter in law will be home. And though we anticipate a happy 2016 with a wedding and two graduations, who knows when we will all be together again at Christmas, as my oldest son declared when he called to tell us he and his wife were coming this year. I better tell them to get their act ready.
Daughter Bethany always concludes with O Holy Night, a cappella. Everyone sits silently, as it is the most sacred time of our Christmas Eve, the only exception being the reading of the Christmas story around the tree.
While we gave up the Christmas Eve Open House many years ago, the talent show has remained, even grown. Vermont, New York, Florida and now Virginia, I want my kids to remember this tradition like a record stuck on repeat, marked in their memories until they are celebrating Christmas with their children.
We have seen many Christmas celebrations come and go in our 29 years together. And as much as I would love to still be heading to my mom’s house on Christmas day, I have learned that life is seasonal; we must lean into the changes. After all, no matter where we live or what is under the tree, the one thing that matters most is that we celebrate together.
Dr. Silas Sims