What Are Your Most Treasured Holiday Traditions?
Happy Christmas Eve eve, friends! Are you up to your neck in wrapping and bows? Are you buried under sacks of sugar and flour? Well, as long as you’re captive, I’ve got a little holiday tale.
A couple weeks back, I cashed in a very generous gift certificate. On a Friday evening, after a particularly bad week, I walked into a very fancy spa in a hotel. I was the only one there, so I headed to the snack area in my robe and grabbed more than my fair share of almonds and dried apricots. I hurried back to the “heat experience” room, eager to wring out every dollar’s worth of the whirlpool and sauna. Beaten by jets, pores purified, I let a woman named Karen attack the knots in my neck and shoulders. Afterward, I climbed back into my clothes, feeling as sleepy and relaxed as a baby whose been driven around in the car until she falls asleep. And while I waited for the elevator to take me back down to reality, I was transfixed by the scene in the hotel bar. It was crowded, high above the glittering lights of the city and the dark trees of Central Park. Women were holding glasses of champagne and little handbags that cost as much as my rent. You know when someone just looks expensive? It was like I was seeing dollar signs everywhere I looked, on ring fingers, hanging from earlobes, in slim martini glasses being knocked back one after another. It all started to make me sad.
Let me explain: I was very lucky to have received such a luxurious gift, and I was grateful for it. At the same time, I realized that in my own life I was regularly participating in an exchange I wasn’t sure I liked very much. My time for money; my money for things to make me feel better. Spending mindfully on objects and experiences that enrich our lives is one thing. But pissing away dollars to make up for the fact that we’re stressed, that we’re tired, that we work too hard and take too little care of ourselves––it’s a cycle all too easy to get caught up in. And there I was.
Which brings me to Christmas. There’s plenty of noise this time of year about buying. There are sales to go to, coworkers and family members to buy for; the list is long. And actually, I meant to get caught up in the whole tinsel-y shebang. Instead, I got a cold, and my shopping plans went out the window. Rather than thank a particular friend for all she’d done for me this year with something extravagant––or even something homemade––I stopped into a deli one night on my way to see her. I bought an amaryllis. It was a quiet gift, and I finally got what Emerson meant about fruit, flowers, and gifts of the self being acceptable gifts: “Flowers, because they are a proud assertion that a ray of beauty outvalues all the utilities of the world.”
What is the point of all this long-windedness? Only, I suppose, that there are things money can buy that are worth more than their cost, and that this seems especially important to remember this time of year: the bunch of greens and a chicken that become dinner for people you love; a Christmas tree that warms a corner of a little Brooklyn apartment; paperwhite bulbs, rooted in soil and shooting up bright stalks in the dark December evenings. This is what so many of us love about the holidays. That our beloved traditions, repeated over the years with intention, become imbued with meaning.
What I want for Christmas is our annual Christmas Eve Mexican Fiesta: icy margaritas, a giant bowl of guacamole, my mom’s chile con queso, and my little brother’s incomparable chicken enchiladas. We stand around in the kitchen by the fireplace and eat and drink; it’s the most convivial moment of the holidays, and my hands down favorite. After that, I want a cozy New Year’s Eve that celebrates all our blessings of the past year and glows with all the possibility of the one ahead. And somewhere in between, I want a new tradition to hold tight just between my husband and me.
They can be grand or quiet, easy or involved, but what do come back to year after year with excitement? What traditions help make this season meaningful?
And happy, happy holidays to you, friends. Thank you for being part of what made this year meaningful to me. In the days ahead, I hope there are plenty of moments of joy, gratitude, warmth, deliciousness, relaxation––and plenty of outright fun.
Images from Peter Spier’s Christmas