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December 23, 2009

Traditional Holiday Tradition

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

In my limited experience, families tend to work out traditional arrangements for gathering sites when traditional holidays such as Christmas and Thanksgiving roll around.

I suspect the tendency, for Christmas especially, is to have the family celebration at the home of the most senior couple in the family. This persists until something extraneous disrupts the pattern and a new arrangement (which often then becomes the new "tradition") is made.

I'll toss out some examples from my own past because I know that -- I seem to pay little attention to what other families do -- and you are welcome to contribute arrangements you're familiar with.

My maternal grandparents were dead by the time I left infancy, and my father's parents lived across the state in Spokane. Plus, it was wartime and travel was difficult. So Christmas centered at our house. Christmas afternoon get-togethers with cousins across town alternated between our house and theirs.

The years I spent in the Army, grad school and part of my time in upstate New York were without family on major holidays.

Living in Olympia with my wife and children, we drove the 70 miles to Seattle to do Christmas at my parents' house. When they became too old to host the big event, Christmas shifted to my sister's house which was nearby.

Remarried and living in Seattle, the focus shifted to Nancy's family. She has sons in the Puget Sound and San Francisco Bay areas, the latter where her grandchildren are. For the time being, we've been alternating Christmases in the two locales; it remains to be seen whether this arrangement becomes traditional.

One of my sister's daughters has a husband whose parents live in Oregon. Every year they do Thanksgiving there and Christmas in Seattle with my sister.

To summarize, my hypothesis is that families attempt to keep Christmas and Thanksgiving as family-traditional as possible. Aging, death, marriage, remarriage, becoming adult, moving out of town and other events are disruptive, but the tendency is to establish new traditional arrangements based on the new circumstances.

I assume Jewish families and people of other religions tend to do something similar.

Am I wrong? Or if I'm essentially right, what other arrangements do families work out besides the ones noted above?



posted by Donald at December 23, 2009


I am the oldest of 7 children born between 1951 and 1962. Our arrangement for many years has been that we alternate Thanksgiving and Christmas. The year we spend Thanksgiving with each other and our children (totaling about 40 people), that Christmas we spend with our in-laws. The next year, it usually reverses. The holidays when we are not together, the siblings who are divorced and unmarried often spend the "in-law holiday" together along with their children still living at home.

When I lived in the same city, the holiday was often, though not always, spent at my house. Now, one of the brothers who is a home builder and lives in a huge and beautiful home is usually the host for the family holiday. Cooking arrangements vary, but everyone brings something.

Holidays are loud, raucous and wonderful.

When I was married and my children were in grade or high school and we lived out of state, we always came back for the family Christmas.

Now that I am single and children are grown, I still come back for the family Christmas. In the in-law Christmas years, I try and spend Christmas in NYC eating good Asian food and spending hours enjoying watching the ice skaters at Bryant Park.

I am not really a Radio City Music Hall kind of person, but the Christmas show is something every American should see at least once. And the Christmas tree at the Met is the major reason I am a member. There are holiday train shows in NYC, and the one at Grand Central is free.

I love NYC at Christmas. The last time I was there I took my youngest, then a 12th grader, to see Santa at Macy's. What fun!

If you have an opportunity to spend Christmas in NYC, seize it with both hands.

And to watch the ice skaters at Bryant Park is to see why America is such a wonderful place to live. I am still surprised at how much I enjoy doing that, and will stand cheering on the skaters for 2 or 3 hours. It is hard to find public occasions of shared joy with such a wide swath of society. Just thinking about the ice skating at Bryant Park is putting a very large smile on my face.

Merry Christmas!

Posted by: chug on December 23, 2009 12:48 PM

Forgive the OTness, but I thought that this jolly yarn, with picture, was pretty seasonal.

Posted by: dearieme on December 23, 2009 3:39 PM

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