Aside from the family traditions of Christmas, I have a few rituals that are simply my own. Each of them came about at various times in my life, and each is highly personal and solely mine. As yet, I have not practiced these things with anyone else, although occasionally they do occur while in mixed company. But I intentionally make time to do these things solo, and that keeps them from being spoiled by any outside factors. These are my own personal traditions, all rooted in individual nostalgia.
The viewing of It’s a Wonderful Life
I was 20 years old before I ever saw this film. I had already developed a great love for Jimmy Stewart, having been introduced to him while watching Mr Smith Goes to Washington during a high school civics class, but I had never explored his filmography. This was the pre-DVD era, when cable service was still expensive and the Turner Classic Movies network did not yet exist. Finding films from the Golden Age of Hollywood just wasn’t a simple task. So I had to rely on network television. Luckily, broadcasters have always been big fans of showing It’s a Wonderful Life in repeated airings. I spent that holiday season working the graveyard shift at a youth shelter with only the television to keep me awake throughout the night. I remember my introduction to the film vividly, as I came to it almost halfway into the story and spent the remaining hour attempting to piece together just what was happening to George Bailey. I was riveted from the moment I began watching, and I was in tears by the end. Fortunately for me, the network reaired the film multiple times each night leading up to Christmas, and I watched it from the beginning each and every time. I probably saw Wonderful Life ten times in a single week, and it became an instant favorite. Because I first fell in love with the story while virtually alone, I enjoy watching it the same way today. It is such an emotional film to begin with, but it’s all-the-more poignant to me since it reminds me of a rare moment in my adolescence when life seemed good.
Reading a Christmas-themed book
For the past few years I’ve enjoyed selecting a book centered around a Christmas topic. For me, this is a bit more difficult than it sounds because I’m not a fan of Hallmark stories or Lifetime romances. I don’t like The Christmas Shoes or anything by Richard Paul Evans, so I tend to find children’s books that are simply beautiful, or I reach back to the classics and read Dickens. I’ve enjoyed The Polar Express multiple times, as well as Eloise at Christmastime (a personal favorite), and last year I chose The Autobiography of Santa Claus on recommendation of a friend and was highly impressed. [Do make time for this fantastic historical first-person narrative of the history of Saint Nicholas. You won’t be disappointed!] But this year I finally pulled out my copy of The Father Christmas Letters by J.R.R. Tolkien. I’ve owned this slim book for seven years, purchasing it during my initial foray into Tolkien’s world, but never actually pulled it out at Christmas to read through. And now I can’t believe I’ve been missing so much! It is a sampling of the letters that Father Christmas wrote to the Tolkien children throughout their lives, complete with illustrations and tales of the North Polar Bear and the pesky Goblins that attacked Father’s home at the North Pole. Each and every year for 23 years, the children received a hand-written, artfully illustrated missive from Father Christmas, regaling them with the most incredible happenings during the year since the previous letter was received. The stories are fantastical, imaginative, awe-inspiring tales that thrill my heart and make me wish I had thought of the idea myself. And I’m enjoying these stories better than I have any other Christmas collection I’ve ever read. Including The Polar Express. But since my love of Tolkien is not shared by other family members (outside a passing interest in The Lord of the Rings films), The Father Christmas Letters are my own personal joy. And one I’m sure I’ll want to revisit year after year.
Gifting my niece and nephews with an ornament
Since the first of my family’s grandchildren were very young, I have taken to purchasing each a single ornament to add to their families’ collections. Though it does not mean as much to them at their still-young ages, I know that they will love pulling them out of their own holiday boxes when they have their own homes to decorate. I want each child to recall that the ornaments were gifts from me, their AJ, and I want them to realize that it was a lifelong commitment on my part. I know that my own collection of ornaments evokes strong sentiment and nostalgia each year, and I can recall the stories surrounding each piece. I want the same for my niece and nephews. And so each year I purchase something that documents their current interests or activities. Kiwi has received her fair share of beaded, blingy, feathered trinkets, all of which perfectly captured her girly-girl personality as a child. K2 has received a series of sports-related ornaments, as well as Star Wars and NASCAR themes. WS has a collection of country-style ornaments, including a metal reindeer, a rustic jingle bell, and a few related to football. And up until now, the Dyl Pickle, being the youngest, has received the most Christmasey items of the four, such as snowmen and nutcrackers. But now that he is developing specific interests, the fun is just getting started for me. This year’s ornament will be basketball-themed to represent Dyl’s first involvement in a team sport. What I hope is that the kids come to understand that this ritual means as much to me as it eventually will to them. Which is the spirit of Christmas that I always want to achieve.
Documenting the days of Christmas was inspired by Ali Edwards’s December Daily project and the Holidays in Hand class by Jessica Sprague.
Posted on 21 December 2009, in Stories I Tell and tagged Life Unabridged, makes me happy, my Christmas experience, my favorite things, things to know about me, traditions. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.