In Praise of Tradition

Perhaps it's the unusual-for-this-time-of-year-in-this-place-in-the-world-heat getting to me - temperatures (and humidity) that remind me of childhood Christmases - that has got me reflecting on the traditions of Christmases past. Or perhaps it was the carol in church yesterday - Mary's Boy Child - that I sung many years ago with my mother and aunt on Christmas Day in church and that had me choking up that has given rise to nostalgia. Whatever it is, I've been thinking today of the traditions associated with Christmas at our place.

I can vaguely remember the horror with which my grandmother greeted the suggestion that the family do away with hot baked dinners and have salads instead. A reasonable suggestion given that temperatures could easily tip over 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). Although Christmas dinner was usually held at my parents' home and the basement provided a cool place to eat our repast, the kitchen was a different story. The salads won out, and the only comment was wonder that the change hadn't been made sooner. (Funny, but now our family tends to have half and half due to the cooler climate - although this year might be an exception.)

Other childhood traditions still continue. Decorating the tree - although our family elects to have a real tree rather than an artificial one these days - remains a part of our Christmas traditions, as does opening presents Christmas morning. Some traditions that I miss include Christmas Day services (our church only has them if Christmas falls on a Sunday - but we often take advantage of Christmas Eve services when offered by our church or another), singing for the "old folks" in the nursing homes, and my Granddad choking on the coins in the Christmas pudding while we children looked on with a mix of horror and fascination. Horror, because Granddad was very special to us; fascination because one, he was the quietest man alive and this was the only sound he seemed to make all year, and, two, we couldn't understand how a grown man could make the same mistake year after year and choke especially when we had all just been reminded by the women in the family to chew carefully in case we found a coin in our Christmas pudding.

And then there are the traditions that DH and I made together when we were married, the most notable being that of making Christmas pudding the traditional way (no canned pudding for us thank ye very much) and which we are both reluctant to give up despite the increasing difficulty of getting all the family together to make it. 

But there is one tradition that appears to be dying out, and which I stubbornly refuse to omit from our celebration of Christmas, despite it becoming more and more difficult each year to implement. It's the tradition of sending Christmas cards. Sources vary, but it seems that only fifty years ago, the average family sent between 60 and 300 cards. Sent. Mailed. Posted. Nowadays the average is about eight cards per family.

I know that postage is going up and that it costs a small fortune to send cards to Australia, The UK, Europe, America and wherever else in the world friends and family happen to settle. I know that it takes time to buy/choose/make and write a card/letter, address it, and that it's probably left up to just one person in the family to do while the rest sit and relax (sorry, little rant there). I know that social media and text messages and all things electronic have taken over the way we communicate (and don't get me wrong, I think that these can have a place in Christmas celebrations - I just don't think they should at the expense of other traditions). I know all that. But there is something extremely satisfying in opening the letter box and finding a card from someone we've not seen in a long time, and reading their greeting. Whether it's just "Happy Christmas" or a long letter about all the family's goings on (and often times others that you've never even heard of), it tells me that someone thought it was worth spending time and money to connect with me and my family once again this Christmas.

So while there are some out there that think this is one tradition that deserves to die, I'm reluctant to lay it to rest. As I look at my cards atop my china cabinet (and if we exclude the ones from colleagues that we've received we are under the national average) and hope for some more to come in after Christmas, I vow that this is one tradition I'm going to try to revive for as long as paper abounds.


SchnauzerMom said…
We discovered a few years ago that the only reason we get Christmas cards is in answer to cards that we send out. Don't send cards, don't get cards. I did find out that an aunt had been dead for several years when I sent her a card and her daughter wrote back. My family isn't very close anymore.
Jules said…
I guess because my love language is words of affirmation and because I'm a writer, cards mean so much to me. I do enjoy emails and e-cards and texts, but there's just something special about receiving a card in the post, especially from friends and family that I haven't seen in a long time. I always feel a little despondent when there are no cards in the letter box - but I guess I'm going to have to move with the times.

I hope that we receive cards because people want to send them to us and not just because we sent one first ... but I suspect your experience is quite common. However, I'm going to stick to my illusions for as long as possible.