Whenever I think of traditions I immediately start singing in my head the song, “If I Were A Rich Man” from “The Fiddler On The Roof” and feel my body move to the rhythm of the beat much like the lead character, Tevye. This Broadway play that became a sensational hit movie with the well-known actor, Topol as the lead character is one of my all time favorites. The theme of the movie has to do with adjusting to changing times and changing traditions. It is a timeless theme as the observance of traditions gives you safe and secure boundaries in life. There is comfort and order in knowing from year to year how things will be.
I understand the security in traditions. Growing up, each holiday had very definite traditions. What we ate and when we ate Thanksgiving dinner was the same from year to year. I will never forget one year getting our Balzer clan together for Thanksgiving and several of us debating how to properly make a broccoli casserole. You see some of the kids were old enough to want it done the way they traditionally ate it in their own homes while others liked it a different way. Oh, the perils of not getting to keep the traditions exactly like you want!
In my family of origin we opened all our Christmas presents Christmas morning. I had friends that got to open one on Christmas Eve. I remember one year my family debating on changing our tradition and opening one gift each that Christmas Eve. I can still feel the lump in my stomach over the mere thought of breaking with tradition. I get why Topol held so tightly to tradition. Breaking with what you always do or changing it can be difficult on your psyche. Besides which, just like Tevey discovered in the movie, once you bend tradition just a wee bit, there is the risk of continuing to bend and bend until voila, the tradition disappears! By the way, I am happy to report that we didn’t bend our tradition that year and we opened all our gifts the next morning. In fact, I don’t think growing up we ever veered away from opening all of our gifts Christmas morning.
Year after year with my own three kids, holiday traditions remained constant and predictable. Nothing ever changed. My kids knew Christmas Eve meant church, dinner and a drive through nearby neighborhoods to look at the luminaries. Those of us in my family that aren’t curmudgeons (I’m not naming names) still do this every Christmas Eve. Then, Christmas Day had another set of traditions spread through the day.
A new tradition
Things never changed…until just a few years ago when I discovered a NEW tradition for the Christmas season. Turns out, it has become my very favorite. I discovered this tradition quite by accident. I happened to be in Richmond, VA sometime obviously near the upcoming holiday and was invited to my niece’s house for dinner. My niece, Jackie and her husband Scott had also invited his parents over. When Barbara O’Connell arrived, she came in the front door lugging a huge garbage bag that appeared to be very heavy and very full. Ever the one to not mind my own business, I asked what was in the bag. “Advent gifts”, Barb said. I was intrigued. Then she showed me the Advent Calendar she had made Jackie and Scott for Advent. Now I had always had an Advent Calendar in my house for the season as well. But, traditionally mine was full of chocolates to punch out, one for each day of Advent. (My three kids spent copious amounts of time each year writing a spreadsheet of sorts to methodically divvy up the days equally amongst the three of them so that they could pop open the same number of chocolates on the Calendar. This was more time consuming than choosing a tree!) Barb’s calendar for Jackie and Scott was not only gorgeous – it was her handmade creation to boot. Barb went on to say that her tradition for Christmas was to give each of her kids’ one small gift for every day of Advent. With Scott now married to Jackie, she made sure Jackie was included. I can still see Jackie’s infectious smile as Barb explained the whole thing to me. Jackie loves Advent gifts. In fact, she told me it’s one of her favorite traditions.
The very next year after witnessing Barb O’Connell’s Advent tradition (it was too late to start that year) I began my own with my kids, David’s boys, spouses and grandkids. My David is Jewish so Danny, his wife Lindsey and Michael get a Hanukah gift for each of the eight days of Hanukah. Addison and Austin (my step-grandchildren) like this Advent tradition better than any other or so they tell me. Many of the gifts they open are freebies we have collected over the year. Once Austin got a small flashlight. Several years later, it still sits on his nightstand beside his bed. Mind you, these daily gifts are really, really small items. There isn’t a lot of money invested in them. But the fun I get in doing all this and the fun I think they all get in receiving them is priceless.
The season of Advent
By the way, for any of you unclear about what Advent is here’s a simple explanation. Known as the season of “Anticipation” and ”Hope”, it marks the beginning of the new Church calendar each year in Western tradition. Advent means “coming” or “arrival” and prepares Christians for Christmas. It begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day, which is the Sunday closest to November 30th and ends Christmas Eve.
As Advent approaches the gifts are almost ready. I love this time of year and am giggling inside with the anticipation of it all. Thank you Barb for teaching me about this O’Connell family tradition. Making this a tradition in the Balzer-Solganik family has been wonderful. Oh, and Barb, you should sell your calendar creations. They are true works of beauty!
Whatever your traditions are for the season, I hope you enjoy the special moments to come. Life is to be lived with bliss. Let this season be full of blissful moments!