It seems appropriate, in this coming year of change, to talk about establishing new traditions. That doesn’t mean tossing out the old, but rather making way for the changes that are ahead and learning how to embrace them with all the richness of family rituals.
I speak for many, as an adult with three grown daughters, to recognize that the holiday traditions we celebrated 20 years ago when they were young, giddy and true-believers, are much different today. Not yet the granddad and with daughters in the Rockies and further West, the four of us gather when we can and celebrate togetherness simply because we miss each other and rejoice in the bonding of just being together.
We ski. We run. We hike, bike, kayak, swim, water-ski, rock-climb or just hang on the porch and gab away the hours. This past January we had cause to go to Hawaii to see an uncle of mine married and be part of the wedding party. We all took time off from work and school (not an easy thing in itself) and spent the better part of a week playing on the shores of Oahu and being with family. We played in the surf, toured the island, paid $10 each to open a clam and see what type of pearl would be inside; two of us took surfing lessons after the other two had to get back to their respective responsibilities, and we all had a memorable time together.
Three months later, two daughters and I met in Big Sur, California to run in their first marathon along that spectacular coast to Carmel. We started the race together, ran stride for stride for those 26 miles and crossed the finish hand-in-hand triumphant over our heads. That night I treated them to cocktails at Carmel’s Highlands Lodge and saw a glorious, blazing orange sunset over the Pacific in country made famous by photographer Ansel Adams. It was an occasion not to forget.
My two youngest, Elsie and Christy, spent most of the summer in Vermont at their respective jobs, while the oldest, Polly, stayed in Denver. Our annual summer vacation in Colorado didn’t catch all three sisters at our family cabin at the same time (Elsie was guiding canoe trips for Songaneewin and couldn’t get off) — a first, I think, in their lives.
Christy, now 23, moved to Vancouver from Brooklyn this August and just making that long trip in a van, landing there with no friends around, and with the three of them not connecting this summer was just short of lonely, so we gathered back in Colorado this past September (with two of the three boy friends) to see the aspen turn colors and be there with their grandparents for five days. We enjoyed the bugling of elk, a memorable 14-mile hike to Spectacle Lake (off trail) with a few climbing moves on wet rock beside a stream cascading down from cliffs above, and spending time laughing and playing and being giddy — as though they were kids opening presents around a tree.
They’ll all fly back home this Christmas for a welcome 10-day visit. Their time will be split between homes and friends, skiing and playing and long talks around the woodstove with hot tea. Then off they’ll go again and we’ll see what adventures come in the new year and how we can arrange to meet in the midst of them — creating memories that will tide us over until home beckons or months drift by.
It is in this framework that new traditions for the four of us must be born and cherished. They will be of the fleeting, catch-me-as-you-can sort. Perhaps a long-race each year (even as a team) would be fun. Or a yearly adventure with a new sport or different twist on a familiar sport: hang-gliding off the South Carolina coastal bluffs; kite-surfing in Cape Hatterus; kayaking the St. Lawrence with the whales – or, perhaps, all meeting to volunteer in New Orleans for a couple of weeks to help repair what this nation never fully restored.
I’d like to think that we would be able to meet each year in Vermont to open Christmas stockings on the morning of, ski together or skate on the lake if the ice is good, enjoy Christmas dinner around the table with the extra leaf in and my Kansas-based parents there too. But knowing how things change, I’m not counting on it.
Rather, I’m counting on finding ways to be together when we can and to make sure we create memories full of laughter and good times spent together — a tradition of mobility, spontaneity and ingenuity … and even if it’s not always getting together at Christmas, we’ll have some gathering to look forward to and cherish all through the year.
It’s not eggnog, but I think it’ll catch on and last.