I never thought the day would come. I knew, theoretically, that traditions are often passed down from one generation to the next, and altered and enhanced with each new bearer. I knew that this was the cycle of family rhythms, but still I never thought the day would come when the decades-long tradition of hosting our family’s annual Christmas Eve celebration would pass from my mother’s house to mine.
My mother knew otherwise. She knew that when she was my age, 30-something with a young family, she had assumed this tradition from her mother. Like me, she had also quietly argued that Christmas Eve belonged at her mother’s home, where it had been celebrated since she was a baby, where it stood as the singular day upon which to mark the changes of the year. Her mother had gently told her that someday, when she had her own home and her own family, she would wish to host this holiday tradition, gathering together beloved family members and friends old and new.
“Someday,” my mother calmy and knowingly told me when my now five-year-old was a baby, “someday soon you won’t want to come here for Christmas Eve anymore.”
I laughed at my mother’s comment, knowing that my lifelong memories of Christmas Eve and its party were inseparable from my mother’s home. Years passed and I continued to savor the Christmas Eve gathering at her home, now using it to mark my daughter’s, and later my son’s, growth as well as my own.
And then it happened. Subtly, unexpectedly, it happened. Last year, with a preschooler, a toddler, and a new baby due any day, our family stayed home on Christmas Eve.
We were surrounded by many of the family members and old friends who migrated, some distance, to our home to continue this long-held holiday tradition in a new venue with a new generation of children. We were joined by streams of new friends, who also decided to stay close to home to celebrate the holiday with their young and growing families.
And just like that, my family’s Christmas Eve tradition shifted from my childhood home to my children’s home. It was so simple, so natural really, for this holiday treasure to be passed along from my mother to me, just as it had been passed along from my grandmother to my mother in much the same way so many years before.
This year, as I prepare my home for our second annual Christmas Eve celebration, I am more mindful of the important tradition I have inherited, and I am more deliberate in involving my children in the planning and preparation. As they help me to decorate our home, draft invitations, and determine the party’s essentials, I tell them how this family tradition has evolved from my grandmother to their grandmother and now to me. I share with them that someday it will be their turn to carry on this holiday tradition in their own home, should they choose, and tailor it to their own family’s rhythm of the season.
“No mama,” my five-year-old objects. “I want Christmas Eve to always be here at this house.” I nod.
Our mothers know, long before we realize it, that babies and little ones change us. They draw us home, connect us more deeply with family and tradition, guide us to create new seasonal celebrations, and, very often, remind us of our mother’s wisdom.
Kerry McDonald, M.Ed., lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts with her husband and three young children. She blogs about city homeschooling, natural parenting, and urban homemaking at City Kids Homeschooling.