(As we head into the holiday weekend, we are happy to bring you these reflections on holiday traditions from our friend Jan Mueller, (We are pleased to present another Guest Post from our friend Jan Mueller, a history and genealogy librarian with an interest in personal history.)
Growing up during the Depression, my Father’s memories of Christmas were not always merry and bright. The difficult economy contributed to some family instability, so yuletide celebrations were not on his list of favorite memories. My Mother’s family fared a bit better during those lean years, and her unflagging Christmas spirit was contagious! Even though my Father could be a bit grumpy when trying to untangle yards and yards of lights—and let’s face it, who isn’t—he and my Mother always made sure my brother, four sisters, and I all had amazing Christmases! Pulling this off with six children was certainly not easy, and as we grew up, we all realized—and were truly grateful for—the sacrifices our parents made so that our Christmas memories would always be joyous.
Now that both of my parents are gone, keeping those very special memories alive has become a labor of love we all share. Because we have no central meeting place, my siblings and I each take turns hosting dinner on Christmas Day. This is a large undertaking, given that my immediate family numbers over 30 people when everyone is present. And yet, we wouldn’t have it any other way!
No matter how large the space, somehow, nearly everyone winds up in the kitchen! As we prepare the holiday meal, we return to one of our most beloved traditions—sharing stories, memories, and reminiscences about Christmases past. These retellings are always punctuated with the boisterous laughter many of us (myself included!) inherited from my Mother! In homage to her, we must always serve cranberry sauce—from the can—just as Mom did—no fancy molds or jello salads for us! When making the dressing that accompanies every holiday meal, we follow my father’s basic but delicious recipe without fail! Each of us has retained several of our Mother’s utensils, serving dishes and other household items—like her favorite bread basket—and these simple treasures are lovingly used at family gatherings the whole year through.
As our family grows, we have made room for new traditions. Most recently, we introduced a unique family tablecloth to the Christmas fun. I stumbled across this wonderful idea in a blog post, and last year, one of my sister’s purchased a simple king size sheet which we hope will become a precious family heirloom. Everyone present at Christmas dinner signed the cloth with a permanent marker. Young family members too young to write are represented by their traced handprints. My sister plans to embroider over the signatures, comments, and other handwritten contributions to create a priceless record of our holiday celebration that will make its appearance and be added to each year.
Along with the visual record created by the tablecloth, photographs, and videos, another interesting tradition I hope to implement this year is a holiday time capsule, another idea found in one of the many family history- and genealogy-related blogs I follow. In a November 2011 reposting of a 1996 article, JasiaSmasha suggests that families create a time capsule of sorts to further preserve those precious family get-togethers. Smasha recommends a brief write up of the event, including observations on who was present, what foods were served, what the weather was like, or what topics came up during dinner, or any other details you wish to include. Creating a time capsule may be as simple as just this short, written record, or it might include a photo diary, a copy of the newspaper for that date, or any other timely item relevant to you or your family.
There are many creative approaches to preserving those time-honored and newly introduced family traditions—how will you and your family pass along these precious gifts to future generations?
(Thank you, Jan, for this beautiful tribute to your loving family. Your example of combining old and new traditions is one we can all take to heart. Merry Christmas everyone! ~ Kristi)