Transitions and traditions mashup Part II

Kat Vuletich
and her mews Mack

Back to Christmas Day: After picking up all the wrapping paper and placing our opened gifts under the tree again (I don’t know why we did this. I guess to admire?) and taking Grandma Miller back home, it was off to Grandma and Grandpa Warfield’s, Mom’s parents, for a Christmas dinner with our Uncle Ken, Aunt Bernie and cousins Kathy, Patty and Larry.
Several Christmases Grandma Warfield sewed or knitted all us girls matching somethings: nightgowns, lounging corduroy jumpsuits, scarves and hats, vests. The foods that were mandatory to Christmas Dinner’s tradition featured homemade, thick and chewy egg noodles in a gravy-like chicken broth; real mashed potatoes; brown sugar-mustard glazed ham; fresh baked dinner rolls and a relish tray heavy with olives. Then, after the womenfolk cleaned up the kitchen and put food away, more presents were handed out one-by-one again by Dad. He made a good Santa.
Following the gift giving that took all afternoon with seven kids and six adults worth of gifts, was dessert: Grandma’s bland pumpkin pie and flavorless whipped cream. Finally, mom took over the pie baking. She made the best pies. Legendary pies. And for those who were hungry again, there were plenty of leftovers. It was a full day of food and gifts. Traditions.
As an adult, Christmas lost some of its gleam. Well, it’s really more of a loss of innocence. My perspective changed is more correct. And traditions morphed into the headache of trying to hold onto them with gyrations of our families and in-laws and wide distances -- the world of angst and frustration for trying to arrange the logistics so Christmas celebrations can accommodate extended and blended family with multiple venues. Unavoidably, some traditions were lost.
Others transmuted into new forms that weren’t recognizable to those we’d grown up with. Like the time I made beef stroganoff for dinner. And then one year we introduced eggrolls as a side dish and dropped a traditional one (I forget which one). Just wasn’t the same. Changing the traditional menu was problematic, not well received. Best not to tamper with that tradition. Deserts are more flexible. Pumpkin pie, pecan pie, homemade cheesecakes could be fooled with. Last year a fluff-custard pecan pie was my new featured desert (along with a traditional pumpkin pie). So, that’s where new things are tolerated and even welcomed onto the Christmas scene for my family.
When I moved to Wyoming and went through a stint of being solitary and far from family, I was alone for the holiday, all holidays, birthday and so on. Just another day. You may be thinking: “Oh, how sad.” Not really, I’m an EMT. So for those years, I just hung out at the hospital to give co-workers time off to spend with their families and immerse in the holiday. I practically lived at the hospital anyway, so I was home. There was food, treats, laughter. Comradery with my pseudo-family. It was fun, with the occasional ambulance run thrown in, helping someone having a bad day. Sort of what Christmas is about, lifting up the people in our community. I was good with it.
One Christmas tradition from my childhood I have really hung onto is piling into the car with whomever I can get to join me -- my girlfriend, my son, my brother and mom (though my brother and mom have passed away now), my husband and his family – on Christmas Eve or in that last week before Christmas and driving around town looking at homes draped in Christmas lighting. Back in Iowa, my brother and sister and I would sing to Christmas songs on the radio, munch candy canes and swill hot cocoa. There was one year “Oh Holy Night” sung by Pavarotti came on the radio. My sister struggled with the tempo. “Who is this guy?” she complained. “He doesn’t know how to sing.” There are so many stupendous memories. My son really embraced this tradition, and he’s our driver now. It’s fun to share it with newbies and have them ask to go again the next year. Deal!
As for those gyrations that pop up now and then with extended family and long distances between us, I’ve learned to roll with it. The last two years, bereft of my mom, brother and mother-in-law, we celebrated Christmas (and Thanksgiving) early in November when my step-daughter’s family (featuring their toddler daughter) could come spend a few days with us. My son is the only family member left in town besides myself and my husband. And he’s an over-the-road trucker, so he won’t be home for Christmas this year (he’ll get a load that takes him to his dad’s in Tennessee for the holiday). But he was here for the early November gig. So, the tree went up right after Halloween, and Christmas outdoor lighting, too. I know! We did the big meal and desserts weeks before Thanksgiving. All good. Even better because Christmas whenever you arrange it is best with little children in the middle of the celebration.
Christmas Day itself this year? Well, my husband and I may take a drive up the North Fork or over the mountain to Red Lodge. Something new. Maybe a new tradition. There has to be a first event to grow into a tradition, right?