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Families, holiday traditions change over the years

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Families, holiday traditions change over the years

We still have our annual Christmas Eve caroling to the animals in the barn
Families, holiday traditions change over the years
Decorating gingerbread with neighbors, friends and family old and new is a tradition in Margaret Hartley's house.
Photographer: Provided by Margaret Hartley

I walked away when the shore aisles started filling up with Christmas kitsch sometime around the time school started. I ignored the radio ads asking me if I was “holiday ready” just after Halloween. I pretended for a long time that winter wasn’t happening this year, that my zinnias would bloom forever.

Then November came and it snowed. Just three inches or so, but a cold snap followed, and then it snowed again. And again. Suddenly, we were in the bleak midwinter.

So I relented. I tossed the dead zinnias and refilled the vases with winterberry branches. I started knitting for real. I started making lists of projects I could reasonably complete by Christmas, and started sketching out designs for block print cards.

I should have started long ago. There is no way I am “holiday ready.”

That’s OK. In my family we’ve always kept the holidays simple. We’ve never been big on obligatory buying, preferring a leisurely morning of unpacking the stocking and making breakfast out of all the fruits and nuts Santa leaves us.

Families grow and change, year after year. Photo by Margaret Hartley.The part I love about the holiday season is baking and decorating cookies with my kids, and then giving the cookies to family and friends. I like filling the house with fir and pinecones, listening to the kind of music the radio won’t play. I like making apple butter and cranberry bread and chutneys for my friends and family, cracking nuts by the fire while my husband reads aloud.

Mostly I love being connected to family – even if it’s by phone or mail, or if the in-person visits don’t exactly line up with the actual holidays. That’s how it goes when families grow.

More from Celebrate 2018: Traditions

Three nieces moved to Colorado in the past few years, and our world-traveling nephew settled in Oregon. We have family in Florida and Pennsylvania, Nevada and London. We’ll call and write, and get together whenever East Coast visits are planned. Years ago we invented the cousins’ day bash, a gathering planned for whatever day in December the most cousins, siblings, aunts and uncles are in the same general vicinity. No gifts required, just time together to catch up and share a meal.

Over the years the definition of family changes and traditions morph. We still have our annual Christmas Eve caroling to the animals, with candles or flashlights in the barn. That started well before our kids were born, when a neighbor kid came caroling and was disappointed by the lack of an audience. We took him into the chicken coop and serenaded the flock, and a tradition was born.

We have a newish tradition, just a few years old, of gathering Christmas morning at our neighbor’s house for cheese and crackers and bubbly beverages by the fireplace – after a crisp, mile-long walk through the woods between our homes.

We bring along the two friends who have been spending Christmases with us for so long they have their own stockings. We have another old friend who spends almost every holiday meal with us  –  and if we go to a sister or an in-law for Easter or Thanksgiving, it’s understood that he comes with us. Why not? He’s family by now.

And families grow. There’s a new great-nephew in Colorado, relatives acquire partners and spouses. Last year we got my daughter’s boyfriend for Christmas; this year his family gets our daughter.

I’m a little sad they won’t be with us for Christmas, but really, it just expands the parts I like about the season. We’ll all get together to decorate cookies with each other before the holiday, and they’ll come over some time after to see if their stockings are still waiting for them.

More from Celebrate 2018: Traditions

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