When working in a middle school that only serves 7th and 8th graders you can do something once and it is launched as a tradition. When the 7th graders become 8th graders, they will expect the major events to remain mostly unchanged and the new 7th graders will not know what to expect so they follow the lead of those 8th graders. You can hold a single pep rally and it will become an institution. You can make a single mistake and everyone will believe it to be the norm. You can reinvent traditions every year, but more likely you will just keep on building on them until an entire generation of children believe the 5k walk and run known as the Cougar Prowl has always existed.
Things do not work quite so quickly with our own children.
We have to carefully craft and cultivate the traditions every year as their memories of holidays and birthdays all blend together into one great summary of their life with us. For better or worse, traditions take a lot of work. I didn’t want anything to do with them when I was young, but I see how they are some of the best treasures and most rewarding hiding places to stow away your hopes for your family.
Upstairs, my brother and sister-in-law, my wife and two children are putting up a tree. It is a tree that was given to us by my wife’s mentor as she was starting to get sick from cancer. The lights are being carefully intertwined within its branches by my sister-in-law. The plastic ornaments are being rolled down the steps by my children. The couch is being occupied by my brother. I’m thinking about how to pump holiday music into each set of speakers in our house. And were I to project out a few years down the road, I can’t really see this scene changing all that much.
The tradition of getting all of the ornaments tangled together isn’t going away.
The tradition of watching my children dance instead of eating their dinner will never go out of style.
The tradition of vacuuming up all of the fake pine needles from the 20 year old tree with color coded branches is too perfect to forget.
It isn’t so much that I want every festive gathering to be like this one, and it isn’t so much that today is more special than other days of putting up the tree. It is that I know the memory of this moment isn’t only a memory for this year. It is one that will perpetuate and grow out of my children’s childhood and my parenthood.
Here is how I know:
I’m sitting here, typing on this computer for the 338th day in a row. I won’t remember writing this piece or having this moment in 5 years. But watching the tree as it is being built with everyone in our family looking up at what we are creating together is something that we will pursue throughout the year. It is something that isn’t specific to one night or even to the tree. We build things and watch them in awe. We do this as a family. We do it because it feels like home.
And we all want to be home, no matter how far away my children move or how distracted we get from setting up the season.