I absolutely love that, in lieu of a Christmas story, Austin Crawley wrote us about Christmas traditions in his house… and now I kinda want to do this every year, have people talk about THEIR Christmas traditions. Traditions are such a huge thing in my family and I can say that I am almost obsessed with knowing what others do as well.
Sit back, relax, and maybe you’ll come up with some new ideas to do with your family this year. Halloween is over… Thanksgiving is over… and this is the last day of November, so… Happy Holiday’s, y’all!
Choosing Holiday Traditions
We all grow up with certain holiday traditions, shaped by our geographical location and family cultural traditions. These can vary from one family to another even in a close community, but in the English speaking countries and much of Europe, we’re affected to some extent or other by the spectre of Christmas, including those whose religion doesn’t celebrate the Dickensian holiday that all the marketers tell us we must embrace.
Having grown up in Los Angeles, I, like most Americans, have been bombarded every year with expectations of the ‘holiday season’ which starts with Halloween, continues through Thanksgiving, comes to a climax for Christmas and then expresses an epilogue on New Year’s Eve, just before the heart-shaped candy boxes hit the store shelves in anticipation of February.
I was in my early twenties when I began to question some of the practices I was expected to follow that appeared to be shaped by television ads and retail outlets. The first to be examined was the tradition of the holiday dinner. If you live in the U.S.A., you’ll be familiar with the Thanksgiving dinner. Turkey, stuffing, candied yams, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie and any other trimmings your family is used to including. It makes for a great celebration meal and if your family is around the average of four people, chances are you’ll be eating leftover turkey for a while and run out of it just in time to do it all again for Christmas!
This close repetition of the holiday meal bothered me long before I grew to adulthood, but it was as a young man that I began to question whether I could break the tradition and not go to Hell for the infraction. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good Turkey dinner, but I wanted it to feel more special for Christmas. To accomplish that, I would have to change the menu at Thanksgiving. The trouble with that is the symbolism involved in some of the specific foods and accepted history.
After giving it careful thought, I decided that the important part of the tradition was having a good meal and I started having tacos for Thanksgiving. Lots of them! This actually caught on with my mother and became a new tradition between us. My father was gone by then and my brother was married and lived away from us. The irony was the year I went to visit him the day after Thanksgiving, satisfied that I had avoided the turkey trap, only to find out that he had built his own personal tradition of having friends come over for a traditional turkey dinner on the Friday after!
Roll on to Christmas. Christmas traditions fluctuate from one country to another, but most of us are familiar with the symbolic bringing of greenery into the house to dispel the darkness of winter, the display of lights and colorful ornaments to brighten up those cold, dismal nights, the exchange of gifts among family and close friends and of course, bountiful food and treats.
The specific foods expected in a holiday dinner are subject to variation from one region to another, and this is one of the things I find interesting to examine. The Germanic and Scandinavian countries, for example, include some wonderful spiced cookies among their holiday fare and even the choice of vegetables and desserts are completely different between the U.S.A. and our closest cultural relative, the United Kingdom.
This is one instance where I allowed commercial advertising to shape an adopted tradition to add to my arsenal. Food catalogs like Swiss Colony and Hickory Farms offer all sorts of interesting treats, both sweet and savory around the holidays, but I believe it was Swiss Colony who started me having pastry for breakfast on Christmas. That first one was a Raspberry Kringle, something I note still appears in their Fall catalog, though the price has increased substantially.
Adopting a new tradition is nothing more than a matter of developing a chosen habit over time. Any one of us can pick and choose which traditions we like from any culture and make it part of our own personal customs.
When it comes to customs at Christmas, my favorite is a tradition from Iceland, where books are exchanged on Christmas Eve and time is put aside that evening for reading. Books make great presents if you know the reading tastes of your loved ones and reading among the family was popular in Victorian England, particularly ghost stories. Hence, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol which has continued to be popular Christmas reading. My own Christmas story, A Christmas Tale, is based on Dickens’ ghosts and how they might manifest when three young women try to invoke them through a séance, only to be reminded that Christmas is not always nice for everyone.
One of my more recently adopted traditions was actually inspired by one of my characters who decided that Christmas was a time to help those who might be less fortunate, something that Dickens expresses through the mirror of Scrooge’s miserly habits in the early part of his story.
A few years ago I was in a shopping area where a street busker was singing Christmas songs. To the tune of Tis the Season to be Jolly I overheard him sing, “Tis the season to be miserable!” I spun round and looked at him. He pointed to the shoppers passing by and said, “Well look at them!” Sure enough, every face pushing their way through the throng of materialistic humanity looked as though they would prefer to be curled up in front of an open fire with a warm drink, like another song says.
I had been aware of the overblown consumerism that had taken over the holiday long before, but that really brought it home. No, I didn’t stop buying my family Christmas presents, but over time, I developed a habit of collecting things I knew they would like during the year and putting them aside for Christmas. No more buying crap just for the sake of giving someone a package to open! I went through a Christmas catalogue recently and was appalled at the percentage of useless garbage offered up as mindless gift giving fodder. Overpriced food hampers, more grooming aids than anyone would ever use, gallons of perfume and a plethora of ‘cutsie’ novelty gifts to be put in a drawer and forgotten.
Whether you practice the traditions you grew up with or start a few new ones of your own, whether your Christmas reading is ghost stories or you prefer the more heart warming tales, I hope everyone has a great holiday season and will do whatever makes you most happy.
Austin Crawley writes Horror and Dystopian fiction with a supernatural twist. His lifelong love of ghost stories and interest in comparative religions has led him to seek the darker corners of human existence and to exploit them in prose, touching on our deepest fears. he has been known to spend his vacations visiting places that are reported to be haunted.
Crawley is the author of A Christmas Tale, a story about three young women who perform a seance to raise the fictional ghosts of Dickens‘ A Christmas Carol with surprising results, and of Letters to the Damned, about a post box in a small English village that reportedly transmits written requests for favours to the dead and damned. His most recent release is A Halloween Tale, which came out last month, a haunted house tale filled with horrific, inter-dimensional terror.