A Day of Traditions

Dec 24, 2011 | 2 comments

Christmas Eve 2011

     Of all the 365 days of the year and of all the leventy-leven holidays, for our family Christmas Eve is the one most steeped in tradition.  It’s a day of last minute scurrying and wrapping and tagging, of Christmas music and lots of nibbling and sipping, of a baked oyster dinner following my great-grandmother’s recipe, and sitting by the tree opening our gifts from one another.  (Santa, of course, will fill our stockings tonight, so tomorrow morning will have a few traditions of its own.)
     Ours is a family that has diminished in numbers over the years.  Now that my folks are gone, it’s just Nyel and Charlie and me.  That’s what comes when two only-children marry and only one of them has an only-child who doesn’t marry.  Sometimes, it seems a little ridiculous to do all the decorating and shopping and planning for just the three of us.  We occasionally talk about breaking tradition and going away for the holidays, but…
     Actually, we did that about twenty-five years ago when my folks were about the age I am now.  All of us went to La Paz for Christmas.  I think I’m the one who made the choice of where, since I was the only experienced south- of- the-border traveler at that point.   La Paz was a terrible choice.  Had we been sports fishermen, it might have been okay.  Had the ferries over to the mainland not been on strike, it might have been okay.  Had there been even one cute little shop or funky craft store to poke around in, it would have been okay.
     As it was, we sat on the beach by day, went to a different little hole-in-the-wall restaurant each night and practiced our really bad Spanglish with the taxi drivers.  That was about it — not a bad way to vacation, but it just didn’t feel like Christmas.  We tried to hang on to the familiar gift exchange, and on the 24th, we opened a few gifts we had found for our agreed upon limited peso amount.  I think we’d had visions of colorful handmade crafty kinds of things but, as I remember, the only available items were little plastic toys made in Taiwan.  It was pretty hard to conjure up the proper Christmas spirit – although we did laugh a lot.
     The best thing that happened was my mom got fully into the piñata action at a local family’s party.  It was at a small restaurant where we were the only non-locals and we were welcomed into the fold from the get-go.  With her indomitable spirit, mom clapped in time with the mariachi band, oohed and aahed over the dark-eyed children, and before you knew it, she was being blind-folded and led to the patio for a turn at the piñata.  It was definitely a high point.
     But it’s difficult to be a part of other people’s traditions. Observer, yes.  Participant, not so easy.  I think that Christmas in La Paz has served as a reminder to us over the years that the best celebrations and traditions are those of our own making.  That Christmas also put into perspective the idea that it’s all about enjoying one another…  Maybe so, but let’s do it in a traditional way.  Our very own traditional way!


  1. Stephanie Frieze

    Circumstances make our traditions evolve. When my children were growing up we always had our big meal on Christmas Eve followed by dad taking the kiddies for a ride to look for Santa’s sleigh in the sky and to look at Christmas lights. While they were out and I was doing dishes, lo, Sants would come and gleeful children would roll in to open gifts and we all go to sleep in Christmas morning. I must say that Dave was not a big fan of this arrangement as HIS family tradition was ONE gift Christmas Eve and the rest in jammies Christmas morning. Now that all of my children are grown and most of them away from home, they have developed their own Christmas traditions in different directions. So we are transitioning into new traditions as we transition into a new phase of life. Dave wants Christmas morning and so he shall have it. We are opting to take my mother out to dinner tonight because it’s easier for her to get into the restaurant than our house. If she cares to attempt it tomorrow for Christmas cornish game hens we will make it happen, but 42nd St. is our new Christmas Eve tradition.

  2. Linda J

    For years when my daughter, Britta, was a kid, we celebrated Christmas with all the usual traditions of the Johnson family. However, Britta added one that became a new tradition (oxymoron?) in our family…when all the kids were making those salt-dough ornaments she was about 5 years old, and so of course she made a snake. I put the snake under the tree and told her that it was the Christmas Snake…it was there to protect the wrapped presents and keep children from peeking before Christmas morning. After that, we had a Christmas Snake under the tree every year.


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