The month of December is filled with traditons and it is traditions that make December a very special time of the year: there are angels and stars, gifts and Christmas trees, special foods, drinks and customs. Then there is Christmas itself, the highlight of it all.
Traditions vary, of course, depending where they originated and in what we believe. But, for all of us December is a time of the year when we stop and think and realize that there is more to life than what we usually allow to enter our mind. I find this a very interesting subject to look into and consequently had long discussions with relatives and friends about it.
It was then that I remembered Delphine and Fred, two very special people who love Christmas and go the extra mile to celebrate it. About six years ago, their daughter, Cindy, and her husband, Aaron, suggested a "themed Christmas". They had found an old fashioned turntable for records which gave them the idea to celebrate Christmas the way it was done in the '50s. Delphine and Fred liked the idea and the family took time togther to research the era. They decorated the tree the way it was done then, found old records for the turntable and each member of the family had to find one authentic gift for the gift-giving.
The family must have liked it because, to research how Christmas is celebrated in different countries, cultures and eras, has become their very own custome since then. There was a French-Canadian Christmas, a Romanian Christmas, a "visit" to Ste. Lucia in Norway, the Celtic part of Ireland and this year they are "going " to Italy. They take the idea seriously and look into the language of their choice, foods, fashions, geography, culture and history but keep it all light-hearted and fun. When I asked them at one time what they get out of it, they answered with a chuckle: "We think the children learned a little and the grown-ups learned a lot and we all had fun!" Not many families can or will go to this extent but they do and, I believe, they are richer for it!
One tradition, the custom of giving each other gifts, is perhaps the oldest - after all, it dates back to the Holy Kings and the shepherds. This custom, however, has gotten way out of hand. While it gives us great pleasure to find a very special gift for someone we love, extreme shopping sprees, as I call it, make us lose the meaning of gift-giving. So, personally, I leave the "sales" for other months such as January or February when we all have more time. To me, the month of December is just too precious for it.
My thoughts go back to Delphine, Fred and their family again because they sometimes revive another tradition: the custom to invite someone - be it a relative, friend or even just somebody they know, who otherwise would be alone at Christmas - to their home.
"Because," they explain, "even if you have many friends, often they are all gone over the holidays."
Again, not all of us can or will do this, but isn't it time to turn the table just a little bit to a gentler, friendlier time - a time more in the spirit of the true meaning of Christmas?
Read Ruth Altendorf's previous column, including a traditional latke recipe.