WACHS: Traditions, old and new, big part of Christmas


Mr. Webster, in his book of words, defines “tradition” as “an inherited, established or customary pattern of thought, action or behavior” and as “the handing down of information, beliefs, and customs by word of mouth or by example from one generation to another without written instruction.”

He actually goes on to say a few more things but that about seems to cover the big picture.

And nowhere, it seems, is tradition more alive and active than at Christmas. We all have traditions and they cover the gamut from the sublime to the silly and everywhere in between. Some are years, even decades and generations, in the making while others may be as fresh as the snow we can’t see to get any of lately.

They revolve around family and friends and faith. Some are short and simple while others take a bit longer to come to pass. But regardless of the who, what, when, where how and why, they all add to the fabric of our lives and make them richer.

I remember that as a little guy we got our Christmas tree from the woods. Dad would go out on the appointed day and in time come back with a cedar tree he’d found on land he knew he could explore. They always smelled so good when Mama would bring them into the house and set them in the living room in front of the corner windows. We had those big multi-colored bulbs that in time would see the paint come off, turning them into two-toned versions.

Today the tradition at our place is small white bulbs, mostly at the request years ago of the two forty-somethings who used to be teenagers who lived at my house. And while it’s always a work of art when their mama finishes the task, I wouldn’t mind seeing those big gaudy bulbs one more time . . . especially if we could add the shiny metal strings of garland and the loose icicles I used to throw at the tree.

Mama would also tape all the Christmas cards she and Daddy got onto the doors in our dining room. It was always interesting to see how many of the same cards came in the mail from different folks. It was also always interesting to try to figure out who a few were from because there was either no name or nobody knew who Clem and Sally Jo were or how they knew us. Today most of the cards that come in – and there aren’t as many as before – look strangely like photo albums and many times there’s no reference to Christmas. Not saying that’s a bad thing because it’s nice to see how the kids have grown but sometimes it does make me wonder just what that has to do with the birth of Jesus.

Another tradition at my childhood home was that someone – Santa or Mama or Daddy or somebody – would leave some shoeboxes full of nuts and fruit and candy and such under the tree. Talk about smelling good; sometimes I’d wait about 10 minutes before tearing into the Milky Way or Three Musketeers there. After a few days the supply of the good stuff like that would be getting thin and inevitably my two older brothers would fulfill another family tradition and raid my box and take my candy and leave a Brazil nut or two or some shriveled raisins in its place.

We also had a tradition that allowed us to open one present on Christmas Eve. Why I don’t know. Just like Mr. Webster said, there weren’t any written instructions. Today my group still sort of practices that tradition.

As time has moved on, others have been added. For several years the folks in the congregation where I am have had a candlelight Christmas Eve Communion service. As we gather in the chill of the night outside the church doors and sing and hear “Silent Night” I get just a glimpse of what I think the night outside Bethlehem was like that night long ago.

For years, each Christmas I would read and reread “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” when the Chatham News/Record ran it on the editorial page. And for the longest time local radio station WNCA had Mrs. Mattie Walden read the Christmas Story – the real one – from the Book where it first appeared. Miss Mattie now spends her Christmases in the Place where it originated in the company of son Bill but I wonder if Barry Hayes saved a taped copy of her reading. Maybe so and I just haven’t caught it since she went on to her permanent home.

There are others, of course, and no doubt you have yours. They are important; savor them. Treasure them. Enjoy them.

And, by all means, be sure to pass them on . . .