Friday, December 21, 2012

Giving Myself Permission to Start New Traditions

Our tree this year
When I was nine, Christmas break was much more than a rest from school.  It was an escape from incessant bullying that lasted for two years of my life.  My job in December was to go to school and come home and enjoy Christmas.  And I loved it.  My favorite room of our apartment had bright red carpets and deep brown wooden walls.  It also housed our stereo.  I would go into that room, turn on Christmas music, and sing Christmas songs while dancing and spinning happily in a circle.  I tried to fill as many senses with Christmas at once.  My eyes tried to take as many decorations as possible.  My ears relished in the brassy, classic Christmas tunes.  My nostrils filled with the scrumptious scent of cookies baking in the next room.  My entire being felt warm by the Christmas glow around me.  I remember thinking how Mrs. Claus must feel at the North Pole surrounded by the wonders of Christmas all year long.

It's a thought I kept to myself.  My family did not incorporate the Santa tradition into our Christmas celebrations.  Part of my parents' religious belief system is the idea that Santa takes the focus off of Jesus.  They believe that Santa puts the focus on what we were going to receive, rather than what we could give.  My conservative Christian school echoed this.  All Santa "paraphernalia" was banned.  No images of Santa.  No mentions of his name or songs about his reindeer.

Most of my friends' families did not echo this in their homes.  My friends got gifts that were marked "from Santa."  They filled out lengthy lists of present requests that were "mailed" to Santa each year.  They each felt a little jaded when they finally received the "Santa isn't real" talk from their parents.  I always got the "how do you not do Santa?" look from people when I would tell them "we don't do Santa."  I've also never once in my life dressed up for Halloween and gone trick-or-treating or gone on an egg hunt at the park.  That's right.  No Halloween and no Easter Bunny.  No tooth fairy either.

I honestly never cared.  There was always that awkward moment when a holiday would roll around and people would forget that "we don't do that" and ask me about Santa or some other tradition my parents didn't follow.  I also had friends who didn't celebrate Christmas at all and I could see just how frustrating repeatedly telling people "we don't do Christmas at all" was for them.  It wasn't so bad.

This is not a tradition that I've carried on.  My kids go trick-or-treating.  They'll go on an egg hunt this year.  They'll get a basket from the Easter Bunny.  Relatives will mark some of their gifts "from Santa," and I won't care.  My son has a Santa hat and recently colored some pictures of reindeer.  I am pretty sure the toddler-that-I-still-insist-on-calling-my-baby has added "Santa" to his ever growing vocabulary at this point.

I don't feel badly about discontinuing my parents' tradition.  I've personally come to a place where I think things like the Easter Bunny, Trick or Treating, and Santa are fun.  I'd rather do what I think is right than be uncomfortable by continuing traditions that are not based on my personal views.  It's not about my parents being wrong; I just simply happen not to feel the same way as an adult about these things as they do.

What I think would be wrong for me to do would be to walk away from a childhood-long tradition, something very important to my parents, without giving it any meaning.  When it comes to being a parent, I would hope that my traditions aren't what my children would carry on.  Rather, I want them to carry on the values behind the traditions that my husband and I started for our family.  

What my parents' traditions taught me isn't that the Easter Bunny, Santa, or Halloween are bad.  These traditions taught me that when you have a viewpoint that is important to you, you hold onto it and do what you think is right, even when the rest of the world doesn't support you.  It was probably very hard for my parents to have to say, "we don't celebrate Santa in our house" or "we don't let our daughter go trick-or-treating" and get funny looks in response.  In the same way, I've been given the strength to stand up for what I believe, even when it's not popular, or what everyone else believes.  

I don't think adoption is perfect.  I don't support laws that penalize people for being poor.  I don't think we have any business taking privacy away from women in health care.  I don't think we should genderize children's toys so that people's jaws keep falling to the floor when they see my son carrying his doll.  Yes, my son plays with dolls.  I support same-sex marriage and support an end to transphobia.  I don't think our society is post-racial and I have no problem standing up to anyone who claims that it is and therefore denies the existence and the harm done of rampant racism in this world.  If these things don't make me popular, and if people give me funny looks, that's just fine with me.  My tradition is to stand up for what I really believe in--and that's not something I ever plan on letting go of.