Amy Choate-Nielsen: Tradition a work in progress

Published: Saturday, Dec. 23 2006 12:00 a.m. MST

Family traditions are like the ingredients of a perfect holiday recipe, which, made the same way every year, comes out to be predictably perfect.

This year, things are going to be different.

Christmas comes just five days before my six-month anniversary, and as a newlywed floundering to find those magical ingredients, I'm learning it's not as easy to create a legacy as it looks.

I've never been exposed to elaborate Christmases. Yet, here I find myself on the cusp of Christmas, and I'm considering the birth of new holiday traditions our family will one day hold dear.

From the inside looking out, the prospect is daunting. How does one create a hybrid custom that satisfies such different childhood-based expectations?

Not only that, but how do you keep living those traditions with both of your families and start your own at the same time?

Maybe one day our future children will be misty-eyed when they talk about what magical traditions our family had, but for now, it's enough for me to turn on the radio station playing Christmas songs and pretend we're being festive.

To look at our apartment, you would wonder if we're actually trying to avoid decorating. We have, thankfully, one Nativity scene that was a wedding present, and one string of white Christmas lights in our holiday inventory.

The Nativity scene is displayed on our kitchen counter, positioned perfectly among the bills and receipts. The lights are wrapped around our bike rack, which, for lack of space, we have instead of a tree.

I think it looks quite nice, but it's not like the decorations I remember growing up with.

I remember sparkling, multicolored outdoor lights, and a big plastic Santa with a red light-bulb nose. In my family, we opened all of our presents on Christmas Eve. We waited until Christmas morning to open our stockings, which were usually filled with nuts, clementines and corroded pennies.

I pity my husband. He is used to the open-one-present-on-Christmas-Eve-that's-probably-a-pair-of pajamas tradition. He grew up believing in Santa Claus and trying not to sleep on Christmas Eve.

He used to wake up in the wee hours of Christmas morning and open everything in sight, including a stocking brimming with candy, cheese and cassette tapes. For us to adopt my family's Christmas customs instead of his would be a major downgrade, but maybe that's not the point.

Maybe it shouldn't matter if our visitors are surprised when they don't see decorations on our door. Maybe no one cares if we don't have matching wrapping paper for our presents.

Maybe our parents started the traditions we loved so much on a whim, and it still turned out OK.

Maybe there is no perfect recipe for a perfect holiday.

Maybe, when my children are old enough to reminisce, they will look back and say their perfect Christmases started with a single string of lights and one Nativity scene — and they didn't even miss the tree.

And maybe, on Christmas Day, when we are bouncing from house to house for dinners and gifts, we will remember the first universal ingredient for a work-in-progress holiday recipe: Tradition begins with family.


E-mail: achoate@desnews.com

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