Traditions and holidays go hand-in-hand. Whether it’s having all our favorite dishes on the table or picking out the perfect tree, we all have things we want to be “just so” for our holidays. Recreating our favorite holiday memories so we can carry them forward can add undue stress to an already busy season though, and it can be easy to get caught up in what we think we have to do to keep our old traditions alive rather than opening ourselves up for new experiences. If you know me personally, you’re probably shocked that I am advocating for embracing change, but really, I am working on it.
Some of my holiday festivities seem to be set in stone. We have the same Thanksgiving meal every year, because that’s what my fellas want. I do change up the stuffing/dressing/whatever you call it recipe, but otherwise, we make the green bean casserole the same (we make our own sauce, and we start it with pancetta), and we always use thyme and rosemary on the turkey.
Other festive activities have kind of been all over the place.
Oak Island’s Christmas Tree lighting is absolutely one of my favorite holiday traditions. Sometimes we’ve worn long-sleeved shirts, and sometimes I needed a wool coat. Over the years, we have seen all sorts of entertainment – from the early years when just a few local horn players gathered to play traditional Christmas carols while a few dozen people sang along, to the more recent years when the high school chorus led the crowd in song. There have been dancers, solo singers and lots of general holiday merriment. Santa Claus always makes an appearance too, sometimes on a boat or a fire truck, sometimes from a helicopter. You just never know what Santa has planned! There are always refreshments, and plenty of picture-taking opportunities for families, which really warms my heart.
The parade the next day is one of my favorites too. I have only been in it once (this year may be my second time!), but I always go watch it. When our son John was a baby, Jeffrey was the driver for the parade marshal and John slept in his carseat as I watched the parade from the car. It was snowing and sleeting and cold, and I only got out to wave at Jeffrey as he drove by. Once John was in Scouts, he and Jeffrey rode with that group, and then when John was in marching band, Jeffrey finally got to start watching the parade instead of always being in it in some fashion. We switch up our viewing spot, and even watched in front of Town Hall one time in full Victorian outfits before heading over to that year’s Dickens Festival in Southport.
We usually take cookies and either lemonade or hot chocolate for our parade watching, depending on the temperature that day. Sometimes we watch with a group of friends, and sometimes it’s just the two of us. Usually we have a pot of chili waiting for us at home, and now, Jeffrey takes lots of pictures of all the floats and groups marching along the parade route. The details may change from year to year, but we always have fun.
The thing that can be tough about traditions is that because they’re the things we’ve always done, as life changes, we struggle to let the traditions change too. Friends and family members come in and out of our lives, so at some point, things will not be the same. Looking back over the last 30 years or so, I can see how much has changed in my own family. Our son lives in Greensboro now, and he’ll be able to come home for the holidays, which is really all the gift I need. We’ll have a great time, and though it won’t be the same as when he was a child, what that really means is that we have the opportunity to build new traditions. It’s like the tree lighting and the parade. The details change from year to year, but it’s the participating, the getting together with family, friends, and the community that is at the heart of those traditions.
Life happens and we can’t stop things from changing. We can open our hearts to new family and friends who come into our lives, though, and we can make new memories every chance we get. We can share meals and stories, we can share laughter and love, and we can savor the time we get to spend together. This empty-nester thing can be tough, but I have thoroughly enjoyed every chapter of motherhood to this point, and I can’t wait to see what new traditions our family creates in the years to come.
P.S. I actually wrote this column quite a bit before deadline, and then I had the nicest surprise and had to write this post script. In 2009, I did a story for The State Port Pilot about Barry and Joyce Morris, who until recently, celebrated Christmas with a beautiful tradition of their own. As newlyweds in 1971, they made decorations for their first tree together. They started decorating eggshells, and their tradition was born. Family, friends, their builder when they moved to St. James — everyone was asked to add to the collection over the decades. I was invited to make an egg too, and I did my best to make it festive. The time has come for the Morrises to put this tradition behind them as they now put fewer decorations out and travel for the holidays. But instead of just boxing up the eggs or getting rid of them, the couple are tracking down the egg contributors and giving them back their eggs. I was surprised and delighted that they went to the trouble of finding me. It seems that as some traditions change, other, more important traditions carry on, such as spreading joy and glad tidings, giving from the heart, and making others feel special.
Best wishes to all of you for a wonderful holiday season filled with joy, happiness, and traditions — old and new!