For some reason, last night a memory crossed my mind, something I hadn’t thought of in years. I remembered how, when I was 7 or 8 years old and living in Hawaii, one December me, my brother, and a friend or two took it upon ourselves to go caroling through the neighborhood. Keep in mind, on Oahu, late December is about the same as late June. Sunny and 85. It never felt very Christmasy, living over there, but that year we were bitten by the holiday bug and decided to spread the joy of the season to our neighbors. We didn’t have any sort of game plan, and being that young, we didn’t even know all the words to the carols we were singing. But we did it anyway. We’d ring a random doorbell, and when the person living there answered, we’d launch into Jingle Bells or Silent Night or whatever else struck our fancy. I guess most folks thought we were cute, because nearly everybody gave us something. Smiles and compliments, sure, but also baked goods. We ended up with more cookies and cupcakes and candy than we knew what to do with. I think a few people even gave us money. We didn’t do it for the reward, but we certainly didn’t turn down the free goodies, either. Honestly, I don’t know what we were thinking. But I’m impressed that my younger self was so brave to sing in front of complete strangers!
A few years ago, I was taking a walk through the neighborhood we lived in at the time with Rusty and Audrey (my kids – these are their new nicknames, since I am Clark Griswold. Besides, K1 and K2 were too impersonal. They sound like mountain peaks). Anyway, I mentioned this story to them, and Rusty got it into his head that he was going to do the same thing. “Do you dare me?” he asked.
I love it when kids of a certain age can be goaded into doing things with a simple I dare you. So, of course I answered in the affirmative. Rusty then marched up to some stranger’s door, rang the bell, and launched into Jingle Bells. The woman who answered stood there smiling, but did not offer him any sort of treat, and after that he was done.
Which means either society has changed since the late 1970s, or I was cuter and more in tune than my son.
I’m all about traditions, particularly around the holidays. When I got divorced four years ago (it was actually Christmas week – man, talk about a surefire recipe for a blue Christmas), I felt that it was more important than ever to hold onto the things that we had done together as a family, and continue those traditions even though the kids now split time equally between two households. I believed this would give them a sense of normalcy during a chaotic time, and show them that life would continue despite the fact that mom and dad were no longer together. That first year, especially, this grasping on of the past helped. Nowadays, everybody has moved on, and our “new” lives have become the norm, but I hang onto those traditions just as hard. Because, when you get right down to it, traditions are the structure of a happy and fulfilled life. It’s no longer about clinging to the past, but rather, about creating memories that Rusty and Audrey may pass along to their own kids someday.
Traditions are why we always go to Pomeroy Farm to pick out our pumpkins around Halloween. Why Planes, Trains And Automobiles ends up in the DVD player every Thanksgiving. And why, on Friday night, we went to Der Rheinlander for dinner, followed by The Grotto’s Festival of Lights. A pair of traditions dating back…I don’t know, eight or nine years now? The Rheinlander is a Portland institution that’s been around since 1963. It’s a German restaurant (duh) that serves really good food in a sort of kitschy setting complete with cuckoo clocks and strolling, lederhosen-wearing accordion players. Think Bavarian Disneyland. I’ve been going there ever since first moving up here – sixteen years now. And The Grotto is a Catholic sanctuary nestled among fir trees and towering cliffs; every Christmas, they put on a Festival of Lights display featuring over half a million lights, choral performances, carolers, nativity scenes, etc. At some point, back in my married life, we decided to combine the two and turn them into a once-a-year event, probably because they are just a few miles apart on NE Sandy Boulevard, and the Rheinlander isn’t exactly a cheap meal. It felt more special doing it that way, and gave us something to look forward to every December. I haven’t missed a year yet, and don’t intend to. Even when the kids have moved out, I bet I’ll still be going.
Sure, some things have changed over the years. The Rheinlander is a little stingier with their bread and fondue, and the soup that used to come with the meal is now an extra $5.50. And admission tickets to the Festival of Lights keep inching up; I didn’t get so much as a penny in change when I forked over $20 the other night. But you know what? The schnitzel was delicious, the lights were spectacular, and the warm, happy feeling I always get on what is probably my single most favorite night of the year? You can’t put a price tag on that.
Both of these photos are mine, but neither were taken this year. Or even in the same year. And that is the whole point about traditions: prices may rise and portions may shrink, but year after year, the experience is still going to be the same.
I wouldn’t want it any other way.