Friday, November 25, 2011

The Anti-Traditionalist

When I was a child, I was something of a tradition nazi. Every year I wanted every single aspect of the season from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day to stay exactly the same. Other than the presents I expected to find under the tree, of course. New rituals were allowed into the litany, as long as they didn't displace any of the older ones, but once they'd been admitted, I expected them to show up without fail every year after that.

Food traditions were the worst. The delectable combination of onions, celery and poultry seasoning frying in butter can still recall my very earliest memories of Thanksgiving--putting together a doll-house-sized feast in miniature while the "Macy's Day Parade", Babes in Toyland and Miracle on 34th Street, played in the background.  This, of course, was back in the day before TV marathons had even been invented.

I loved the sense of constancy these rituals evoked. My mother once made the mistake of baking coconut meringue cookies one Christmas, along with all the rest of the usual holiday favorites. No one else cared for the meringues very much, but I loved them. And I pouted every year afterwards, when they didn't automatically appear, until I was old enough to bake them myself. Then there were the struffoli, which an Italian boyfriend accidentally introduced me to one Christmas during my early teens. I left the boy, but I took the pastries.

The same pattern continued for many years. There was the vegetarian holiday lasagna my parents discovered during the 70s, made with bright red pimento sauce, pureed spinach and creamy Bechamel. They served it at a party one New Year's Eve and a lot of their friends found it odd. It was the raisins, I think (yes, raisins. omg, so good, you have no idea!). I, of course, immediately adopted it as my own, along with my mother in law's cream cheese apricot turnovers, the Cuban-style rice pudding the mother of a friend of mine introduced me to and, a little while later, my own take on lemon chess pie, which I developed when we lived in Southern California.

I'd switched my allegiance from Macy's parade on Thanksgiving to the Rose Bowl Parade on New Year's at this point, and was living in a house that had a huge Meyer lemon tree in the back yard. This was during the first few weeks after Clinton was elected and Southern cooking was suddenly on everyone's mind. To this day, cold lemon pie, hot, black coffee, the Rose Parade and bright sunshine is the only proper way to start the New Year in my opinion.

Gradually, however, things changed. Traditions disappeared. People either grew up or they broke up; they moved away or passed away; they embraced vegetarianism (raises hand sheepishly) or they turned their backs on organized religion (hand still up for that one) or they reversed course on both. OR...they moved several years in a row and ended up losing-and/or-permanently-misplacing not one, not two or three, but no less than FOUR consecutive sets of Christmas ornaments.

Honestly, if that doesn't cure you of your obsessive need to keep things the same, nothing will.

These days, about the only holiday tradition I observe is change. However I did things last year, you can pretty much  bet I won't be doing that again this time around. There's a giddy kind of freedom in that, I've found. It's kind of like being single: I can experiment all I want, with whatever I want, without fear of commitment.  I get gleefully excited walking into stores this time of year and wondering, what colors do I want to decorate the tree with this time around...or do I even want to bother with a tree at all? I saw a no-tree display recently--just a spiraling cone of ornaments suspended on monofilament thread beneath a single spotlight--that really has me thinking...

So, what about you? Are you a traditionalist or not? Do you like things the same sometimes? All the time? Or do you fall somewhere in between?


daydrmzzz said...

I like things to be the same for the holiday. I'm not as strict to it as you seem to have been -lol but I do like certain things like my moms stuffing, hubby singing songs, kids playing and screaming while they tackle their uncle, washing dishes with my sister, then sitting by the fire to watch a movie.
I seem to be the one in the family that sets the pace and makes the traditions what they are so as the kids get older I try to make sure I do and add new things to the yearly routine. Like when we pick up the tree or teaching them to cook the traditional apple pie or baked goods. Things I did with my grandparents that are no longer around I want to make sure they get those memories like I have.
I like the tree ornament idea your talking about think I saw one- great idea. Not sure is I'm doing one at my house this year -big tree always goes to moms house where we do Xmas and I get to hand out all the presents.
Hope you had a great holiday! Xoxox

daydrmzzz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
PG Forte said...

oh, I had a great holiday, thanks. We drove up to Calistoga, had a really nice meal, admired the fall leaves. It was great. How about you?

Kelly Jamieson said...

I enjoyed starting new traditions with my kids when they were young and began our own family. And now they're like you were, PG...they want those same things, every year without fail, LOL! So we pretty much do follow some of the traditions. But as the kids get older things do change and we have to adapt to new traditions too. Luckily we don't have to get up on the roof to make sleigh marks and reindeer tracks anymore, and we don't make homemade Christmas ornaments (the kids still think I should get rid of those clumsily painted Santas they made - no way! Those are the best ornaments!) But we have our Christmas Eve homemade pizza, our ritual of unpacking and decorating the tree with all the ornaments we've collected in our travels, our traditional turkey and stuffing etc etc.

Kim B said...

I am jealous of people who do not put up Christmas trees. Having a little one, I feel like I have too. I wish we could change some of the traditions that we've started in the last 8 years. I want to stay at home on Christmas, but find that we spend a good bit of Christmas day at other people's homes. I do find time to watch A Christmas Story atleast three times (my own personal tradition that people shake their heads at). I really like Kelly's tradition of homemade pizza, maybe I can start that and get us out of all the visiting. ;)

crazycatlady58 said...

I am some of both I like family traditions and Christmas is a big one for us.
However every year we do something we haven't done the year before, just to keep things interesting.