“Moms get to define holiday traditions,” said my friend Pam as we sat at Starbuck’s having a coffee almost two years ago. I was on the cusp of transition; going from a full-time ‘extreme‘ job into a consulting status for the same company. Truth be told I was somewhat catatonic. Pam was saying, in effect, ‘enjoy the holidays. You have time to establish some traditions. These are important for your family.’
Honestly, I had never thought of establishing holiday traditions or whose role it should be. Given that I had two kids under 6 at the time I was really just thrilled that everyone got to where they needed to be everyday– within a reasonable window of time — and with the respective snack packed and ready-to-go.
Pam’s remarks not withstanding I had started a tradition a couple of years earlier on the suggestion of a man named John whose office was next to mine. He and I shared a friendly repartee over the years as I whirled in and out of my corner office.
The greatest thing about this idea is that it can morph to accommodate your holiday definition – Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanza, the Winter Solstice, etc. It can live in families with children and those without. It’s entirely flexible and holds its value regardless of the details.
So here it is….
One day John mentioned that his family wrote a holiday letter each year. I think it was to Santa. It’s not the kind of letter tucked into the holiday card and sent off to friends. In this very personal letter John would share a funny story or two and offer vignettes of the year’s milestones. John’s oldest was in college. His younger son in high school. At Christmas they would get together to read the letters from the prior years out loud. Not quite Norman Rockwell but close.
Here is what I remember about John. His daughter survived childhood cancer. She went off to college in California when John was my office neighbor. He remarried somewhere along the way. He had an affinity for popcorn balls at the holidays. He sailed. But mostly he gave me this most awesome gift, the Holiday letter.
In our house, the letter is addressed to Santa. We have three letters. This year will be our fourth. Every year the letters are packed away in the attic with our holiday decorations.
Without these I wouldn’t be able to tell you…
- that our daughter handed me two shiny pennies when I was leaving for a rare weekend away in DC with my sister and cousin. She said, “Mom, this is for you and Auntie to buy snacks on the plane.”
- or that our son who told the barista at a local coffee-house, “I’d like pumpkin bread. And I’d like the biggest piece you have.” His honesty entertained everyone in the line including those behind the counter.
- or that our daughter, in realizing that she, her brother and another friend were on the front page of the Cape Cod Times, turned and said, “We’re famous!”
- or that our son, who shared a dream with us about the beach, said “it was ok. The waves took our shoes away but the fishes brought them back.”
Without the letters these funny little glimpses into the personality of our young family would disappear into the ether.
This isn’t hard to do. I use a decidedly low tech approach to it all. I keep a piece of scrap paper in my jewelry box all year-long . If I happen to remember I write down a few specifics. At the end of the year I pull the paper out, sit at my laptop and write a letter. It isn’t long. A page or two. The techie and gadget folks among us could quickly figure out how to do this in a more streamlined, comprehensive fashion. While possible, I’m not sure it’s required.
I’ve mentioned this idea to a few friends over the years. To a person each has been struck by its simplicity and meaning.
For now, my husband and I read the letters sometime over the holiday season. We smile. The kids don’t yet have the attention span to listen. Maybe they’ll laugh when they’re teenagers – or share them with friends as young adults.
So what does transition have to do with this tradition? A lot, particularly as I get more inspired to live my life judgment free. Can you see the intersection?
As you wade through the holidays I hope joyfulness surrounds you. I owe John a great deal in offering this rich present to my home. I hope I can return the favor by offering it to yours.
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