I was going to write about something else, but Little Ms Blogger's "Question of the Week" started me thinking... You can read her nice post and many replies here, but her question was simple: What is/was your favorite holiday tradition?
When I think of "traditions" in general, I usually think of things done in childhood--at least that's how my ex meant it, when he used to wax nostalgic about the supposedly idyllic holidays of his youth. And some of that was nice; during our first few Christmases together I enjoyed how the grandparents would come over in the late morning and neighbors would drop by for visits. These and a few other traditions were nice to share with the ex's family.
Looking back at my childhood Christmases, there wasn't any emphasis on tradition. We hung stockings and had cookies and eggnog on Christmas eve and opened presents in the morning, true. But things so often "went wrong" in one way or another, that if we weren't having a problem, we were waiting for one.
The Christmas traditions I remember with pleasure are, first and foremost, waking up way before anyone else and creeping silently downstairs. There, I would light the tree and build a fire in the fireplace. Sitting in the warm glow of the flames, I would try to soak in the scene and absorb the peace.
I also remember setting up the nativity scene. As the oldest daughter (and least likely to break it) I had the honor of setting up the figures of the nativity. I remember carefully unwrapping each one--Mary, Joseph, Gabriel, the shepherd, sheep, donkey, ox, camel, the three wise men...and finally Jesus in the manger. When I was younger, I remember how I used to set the scene up with baby Jesus in the center and everyone crowded around Him in a circle. They all wanted to see Him! My mother would rearrange the pieces into the more traditional setting later, so we could view the scene. One year, I spent several evenings in the basement making a wooden stable out of some wood scraps and shims--that manger scene meant so much to me that I wanted them to actually have the stable for a home.
After leaving home, the nativity was one of the first things I needed for my own holidays. I don't recall if I found one for that first Christmas, but soon I did. It was just a simple ceramic set painted in jeweltones, like my mother's, but I was so happy to have it. And every year it's there, on a piece of green velvet. Truth be told, I didn't remember setting up the nativity in a tight circle like I mentioned above until one year, when I let my son have the honor of putting it out. When he finished, one look brought that lost childhood memory back instantly. It was like seeing myself. All of the figures were gathered tightly around baby Jesus, just to see Him, to be near Him. I left our nativity as my son arranged it that year.
Another tradition which I have kept since leaving home is to go to Christmas eve church services. I wouldn't miss it. The service is the culmination of the four week season of Advent--the time of preparation for Jesus' birth. My season just would not be complete without welcoming our Savior's birth by singing "Silent Night" in a darkened, candlelit church. The peace and sense of anticipation we leave the church with is incomparable.
For a few years now, I've adopted the old Italian tradition of making the Seven Fishes for Christmas eve dinner--but that's surely better suited to a great big family dinner instead of two or three people. I'll work on that. Other than those traditions, there are the cookies. I've always baked a variety of cookies for Christmas--I love cookies, and the people around me always seem to too. I didn't realize how essential baking was to my season until several years ago. I was so busy in the weeks before Christmas that I had not even made any cookie batter, much less baked any cookies. I felt something was missing. I awoke on Christmas alone and feeling out of sorts, but with a craving for cookies. While waiting for my son, I mixed up 3 types of cookies and baked a dozen or two of each type. By the time he arrived, I was feeling the season and the house smelled like Christmas. Some traditions can cure a multitude of ills!