Part of becoming an adult is detaching from the family of origin, in order to create your own pod. This is not a severance, it is a re-creation. It is easier said than done, especially during the holiday season.
I had a terrible time being absent from my Detroit family’s Christmas. It was Mom’s magical time, with a glistening home, great meals, cookies galore, gifts, and a vacation from school. For years after I moved to Chicago, I would return for Christmas Day. When the kids were babies, this meant a 5 hour drive with no fast food breaks, often in terrible weather.
When they were old enough for Santa, it meant prying them from their treasures. Crying. Angry.
And so finally I gave it up. We were the Chicago Dahls, and we would center our holiday in our own zip code. I’m not going to lie: I was despondent by noon, with a messy house, over-stimulated kids with my siblings and parents enjoying each other 300 miles East. Still, it was the right thing to do. We needed to form our own traditions.
In 1987, I bought a Christmas Book. I began to immortalize our holiday season. I determined that we would celebrate our own customs, and I would record them.
I started small, placing our Christmas card, a photo and a brief description of how we spent the day into this volume. Soon I outgrew the format.
In 1994, I adopted the tradition of giving each boy an ornament to symbolize some element of their life. I wrote a letter to summarize why it was selected. Then I just started creating an annual Dahl retrospective in my writing.
Every year since then I have managed to observe this tradition, highlighting the moments that defined us. Some of those are sad: the death of a dog, a grandparent, the loss of a job. Some are triumphant: making the team after being cut the year before, college admission, musical awards. I print my blather on Christmas paper. It is our history, one chapter at a time, illustrated with Christmas pictures to show exactly who we were and what we looked like. Christmas sweaters have been captured, to shame us forever. (You could not possibly know how amazing this devotion to a ritual is, because I am the most hap-hazard person I know.I cannot even make the same recipe twice.) The boys have occasionally added poems or letters of their own, sometimes in lieu of gifts. They are smart enough to know that a kind word or a macaroni wreath will speak to their Mom. It’s the thought that counts. But the thought has to be expressed.
I use my letters to rejoice in our present blessings. Predictably, every year I close my letter anticipating a year that will be richer and brighter than the one we are celebrating. I am always right, because life unfolds new gifts as our circle grows bigger. It holds more love. More babies, more possibilities, more joy.
For the past seven years, I have added an annual collage- a jumble of pictures plucked from our family adventures and assembled without comment. (Truth told, I generally add notes on the back in case my memory fails…and it will) Since the kids have their own Christmas cards now, I annex them to our community page. I am running out of space in my book. Volume 2 will soon be needed. This book is the thing I would grab if the house was on fire. It holds our history, freezing us in time, once every 365 days.
Last year, I passed the torch to my kids. I bought each family a sturdy 3 ring scrapbook binder. I found sequinned Christmas appliques to embellish the covers. Inside, I outfitted them with 20 years worth of Christmas scrapbooking pages complete with plastic protectors, letter sized sleeves for them to recount their year, and pre-fitted photo pages. I started them off with my 2012 l Christmas letter and collage, and the challenge to “add a strand of Dahl family tinsel every year.” I hope that they will. When I am no longer part of their Christmas days, they can smile and remember how I loved December’s glow; my letters and their letters will merge and tell a magical tale. It is a tale I handed over to them, knowing that their chapters would be nurtured by my love of family and of tradition. Every year, I hope they will glue a few memories together, and share some words. Then they can close their scrapbook, pausing the story of their particular branch of the Dahl tree. Unspoken, though obvious is the notion that the story isn’t ending. Only the holiday season is. Rather, the story, the family history is “to be continued.” The Christmas Book testifies to this.
Still with me? Good. This is my throw down to you. You can start this with your family, or you can gift it to your family to carry forward. But do it. Whatever your holiday celebration is – Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Bodhi, Solstice- freeze and immortalize who you are. I gave my kids the tools that I figured would make it easy, but a journal or a dedicated web site could provide a repository for your family. But do it. Someday, it will mean the world, and in graphic form, it will BE your world. Get started. There are only 35 days until Christmas….and 31 to Solstice for my Wiccan sisters.
I am not adept enough at injecting a gallery of images to guide you into this post. I will start Part 2 of this post immediately so that you can see what I am talking about. Return to the Janet Dahl, e/a home page and read the subsequent post for pictures. I apologize for my clumsiness. Just continue to the next post to see what the heck I am talking about.
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