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Sue Bruns: Ah, those holiday traditions

Submitted photo by Sue Bruns My son Eric, my mother-in-law Florence Bruns and my brother-in-law Mark Bruns making lefse at one of our holiday gatherings. One of Eric’s buddies “enhanced” the lefse turners with a little photo editing, making them “laser” powered.

As we sat down for turkey on Thanksgiving Day, something was missing. Daughter Jessy was absent from the family feast for the first time in 22 years — a break in our family tradition.

Traditions are important. They give us stability, good memories, patterns in a life of uncertainty.

My childhood was rich with traditions. When I was young, virtually every holiday involved a small celebration with just our family of five and then an extended gala (mainly food) with my maternal grandmother, two bachelor uncles, my other uncle and his family. Christmas dinner was at Uncle Bob’s, Easter at Grandma’s, and Thanksgiving at our house. The women worked in the kitchen preparing the meal while the men lounged in the living room. The cousins played together and stayed out of the way.

Every December, my dad hung blue Christmas lights in a perfect line along the eaves of our house and down the sides. He arranged small spruce trees in front of the bay window as a backdrop for the plastic light-up nativity scene. Small white lights covered the shrubs near the house and multi-colored lights decked the big blue spruce trees nearer the street.

 On Christmas Eve my parents always took us three kids for a drive to check out other decorations in town (to assure my dad that his were still the best). Secretly we knew why our mother, ever early for any event, was chronically late to the car for these Christmas Eve drives while the rest of us waited in the car, engine idling. We returned home each year (always surprised) to find that Santa had delivered our presents while we were away. (Well, of course he had to visit some places early in order to get to every house by dawn!) No one ever questioned how the presents had gotten there. (If you don’t believe, the gifts might stop coming.)

We opened the gifts on Christmas Eve (but only after the supper dishes were cleared, washed and dried). Christmas Day was for church and THE BIG DINNER with extended family.

Ah, yes. Christmas traditions. How delightful to think back.

But things change, kids grow up, move away, start their own traditions — just as we had started our own once we had children. Or did we?

“Eric,” I asked my son, “what traditions do you remember from growing up?”  

“Can’t think of any,” he said, and then after a moment added, “Making lefse, I guess.”

Yes! That was one tradition this German-Irish girl had to learn when she became part of a Norwegian-German clan.

“Right!  Lefse making,” I said. “Anything else?  Any other traditions?”

“Hmmmmmn. Nope,” he said.

Ouch! Had we established no memorable traditions?  What about Christmas Eve at Grandma’s and Christmas Day together as a family?  Well, that happened most of the time, except the Christmas Eve we took a long trip to visit Grandpa in the nursing home and no restaurants were open on Christmas Eve so we ended up eating really dried up hot dogs and old doughnuts from a convenience store.

And that other year when we spent Christmas in Orlando and every tourist attraction in Florida had record-breaking attendance numbers on the very days that we were there, standing in long lines of not-so-jolly tourists.

I realized that my kids were victims of their parents’ disrupted traditions. It’s our fault. We grew up, got jobs, moved away, married, had kids of our own.

You know how it is. You have to work around more than one family’s traditions, adjust for work schedules, travel in different directions to different sets of relatives, spend long hours on the road.

When you think you’re establishing new traditions, you’re actually eating at convenience stores on Christmas Eve. You might make lefse one holiday and not another. Or you might decide one year to get away from -20 temps and have Christmas in Florida, which you end up hating because you miss being home for the holiday and there’s no snow and what’s with all of these blooming poinsettias sitting outside in December?

I started to question my own childhood memories. Did we really do everything just the same every year, or was it a collective memory?  Does it matter?  Does “tradition” really mean doing everything the same all the time?

No, no!  I’ll not be a slave to repetition at the expense of tradition!  (Say what?) The important thing isn’t doing everything exactly the same way every holiday: The important thing is family and making the most of the time together — wherever it may be.

Merry Christmas.