Friday, May 22, 2009

Decoration Day and Holiday Traditions

I've always been a bit jealous of families who've managed to put into place solid traditions. Once you marry in, you know you'll go the same place every year for the 4th of July, or Memorial Day, or eat the same things every Thanksgiving, or wear matching sweaters for Christmas, posing for a yearly photo in front of the big Christmas tree that's covered with ornaments that have been collected over the years. Year after year they just do this, there's no need for discussion as to where Labor Day will be spent, or if there will be a family reunion this year. Of course there will be, and everybody will show up, even those you'd prefer would forget just once.

But we're not that family. Because we moved around the country, many holidays were spent with just the five of us - Don and me and the three kids. Very small Thanksgiving dinners, or Easter egg hunts. There was no need to draw names to exchange gifts - it was just the five of us. As our kids have grown up and some have moved away, each holiday is even more up in the air. We've traveled some, sometimes we've stayed home while sometimes they come to visit. As we're getting close to retirement holidays are completely up for grabs, with likely very few being spent at our house. I may have baked my last turkey. I may be okay with that.

My mother-in-law called Memorial Day "Decoration Day", and she'd faithfully spend the day planting flowers at the graves of her parents and family who'd already died. She was a purist and only set aside Veteran's Day for veterans. Memorial Day was for those in her family who were already gone. I loved that she called it 'Decoration Day', the quaintness of it. This Decoration Day weekend will not find us visiting graves, as any family members near us are alive and well. It will be spent helping Jeremy and Leslie and Landon finally move into the house they bought over seven weeks ago. It's going to take all hands on deck to pull it off, and likely the weekend won't culminate in cooking burgers on the grill, corn on the cob, baked beans, and some volleyball or horseshoes in their front yard. Frozen pizza and bag salad are much stronger possibilities. Once the little family is settled Don and I might sneak off to see a movie this Monday, when everyone else in America is busy grilling burgers.

With retirement looming we'd like to get some traditions going. We'd especially like to begin an annual or semi-annual family reunion / big ole fish fry at the lake, where everybody joins us, and brings all their family and friends who've been around long enough to feel like family. Maybe next year? I love that she called it Decoration Day, a day to celebrate the lives of those who impacted our lives, but are now gone. Ours will be spent celebrating life with those still around, and maybe reflecting a bit on those graves too far away to decorate.

How about you - do you have holiday traditions set in place, favorite places everyone gathers, and what's it like? Maybe I can live vicariously through others!


Jen said...

I loved this. As we dont have alot of traditions but the ones we have I treasure close to my heart and look forward to are a few...

Easter is always spent with my parents for lunch after church...followed by an easter egg hunt in my mom's back yard.

Memorial always at my house or mom's...grilling out or sometimes cooking day the weekend is spent together...not the whole weekend.

The 4th of July is the same at my mom's or my house for an old fashion cookout..normally ribs potato salad with some kind of cold dessert.....since its so hot. Followed by fireworks on the river.

Halloween...both sets of parents come to my house for a chili supper and we take the kids trick or treating....together. mom's on the day...Scott's moms on Saturday. gets crazy here...hang on...Christmas Eve my mom's, Christmas Brunch Scott's moms, Christmas Dinner my mom's...

And and mom get together in December and make cookies and candy together...very much tradition.

I guess that is it for our little family of four...we do several little things during Christmas...we go look at lights together, do the program at church together, the food drive together, and do gingerbread houses together....we love it!

Jen said...

One more thing...I love the fact your mom calls it Decoration Day. That is just perfect....

Belle said...

My family always has a Decoration -- my grandmother's side of the family is the 2nd Sunday in August and my grandfather's side of the family is the Sunday after Labor Day. Always has been and I suppose always will be. Some family members have moved away, as is the norm and some just don't come anymore. I live in the south, Upper East Tennessee to be exact, and this seems to be rather common in the south.

As for every other holiday.....our entire family still lives in the same town where both my husband and I were born, except for my brother who lives in York, PA! We do lots of floating around except on Easter which is the one holiday we could persuade every. single. member. in our family to come to our house.

Becky said...

We were just talking about this at our small group tonight. With families so far apart in our culture today it just is so hard to make those traditions stick.

When I was a girl I lived next door to my grandma and there were always lots and lots of gatherings with 36 cousins and 10 sets of aunts/uncles.

It was great fun and lots of memories when we all lived in the same town.

Bev said...

Jen, I'm completely jealous - look at how you all have it lined up! There's something comforting about knowing where you will be when, all through the year, and maybe then planning one family vacation for just your family.

Belle, How on earth do you get them all to come for Easter? It's way too dreary here in PA to get anyone to come for a visit then!

Belle said...

Bev --

Seriously, we all live in the same town (with the exception of uncles, aunts and cousins, of course!). My husband's sisters and families and his dad (his mom passed 2 years ago) and my parents, my sister and her family all live here. Within 5 to 8 miles of each other. My mother is the only one who gives flack about coming to our house for anything.

It's nice to have everyone in one place for at least one holiday because otherwise we're running all day long on every single holiday.

We always know what we're doing on Christmas but it always makes me crazy. Christmas Eve afternoon we go to my husband's parents house to read the Night Before Christmas (I know it should be the Christmas story but this is a long standing tradition in his family), then we take Catie to see Santa and have a pic made, then to church for the children's Mass, then to my parents for dinner and presents for the kids, then home. Whew! Christmas morning we have our little family Christmas by ourselves early because then we go to my husband's parents for country ham biscuits and visiting, then my mom and dad's for lunch, then my husband's sister's house for dinner. I'm tired thinking about it all.

I don't necessarily look forward to Christmas because of all the running and that makes me sad. I usually take the day after Christmas and we don't do anything. At. All.


Beck said...

We're big on traditions here, but they can feel a bit confining sometimes. I'm sure your family life feels deep and heartfelt just as it is.

Gretchen said...

I lurve the name "Decoration Day". How perfect.

We tend to be our little 4-pack, too. One of the traditions we've kept is that Santa comes to our house. Others may come, too, but Santa stops here. That keeps us home on Christmas. I think I got tired of running hither and yon when we were first married, to this parent, and that, to this step family, and that, to the grandparents, too. It just got to be too much. And funny enough, no one was any too accommodating about doing switch-offs. So...I've put that sign in the ground in terms of holding my tongue when my two have families. I know it will be bitter sweet not to have every holiday together, but the gift of peace is a big one, I think. And as much as I lurve my kiddos, I really dig their dad, too. If Christmas means a new tradition of staying in a hotel and having breakfast in bed, I suppose I'd be all over that, too.

I love traditions. But I also love the ability to flex and change them as they fit the family. One tradition we used to do is cut down our tree. Now that my daughter and I are usually in some sort of Christmas production, we go to a tree lot and pick one out in 15 minutes. We still get the freshness of a "live" tree (which I don't care about, but my husband loves), we pick it out together, and we get busy decorating it in one evening, rather than needing to take a whole day to trek out and get one.

Our July 4ths are fun, too. But we've adapted. We used to go back and forth with some friends with visiting each other's houses over the 4th. Because of a number of reasons, this hasn't worked out the last few years as it once had, and I felt sad about that. But we've decided to try to see those friends every other year at their house, and if they can come to ours on the "off" years, great. If not, we'll enjoy the day with our local friends. We try to make it a July thing, but if not...August is a great month for friends, too.

I'm surprised I can be this flexible with some of our traditions--I'm usually a bit more rigid! :) See, I'm growing!