Commentary: Holiday traditions

My friend Jayne has stayed true to the Christmas tradition since her children, Daniel and Elise, were tykes. Every year, second week in December or thereabouts, they've gone to a small hotel in Boone where the price of a room includes a Christmas tree.

When I was invited along this year, I said, "Wait a minute. Lots of hotels put a little tree in the room this time of year. You don't have to go to Boone for that."

A person who earns a living with the written word should have known better. The arrangement, one apparently shared by thousands of people in the course of a holiday season, is that the price of the hotel room includes the selection of a live tree from one of the nearby tree farms. This is a good deal, if you don't mind the drive and bearing witness to your first snowfall of the year.

But the trip was of course about more than a tree bargain. The holidays are about, or should be, all sorts of traditions within families, be that family a "group" of two or the Osmonds.

It might involve a single ornament (mine's a plastic bird from my very first Christmas) or the retrieving of an ancient eggnog recipe from the safety deposit box (this is no joke. ... I knew these people) or the unboxing of the Christmas sweaters or the packing and delivery of treats to families without much cheer in their year.

Or it could be the establishment of the holiday schedule, where patriarchs and matriarchs of a given clan gather on One December: "We always go to the Nelsons on the second Friday night. Then we have the Johnsons that Saturday. Everyone will come here that next Thursday. The Sunday before Christmas week we have the caroling, and we need everybody here by 4 o'clock. There are five church services we have to attend. One of the kids said something about having to go to the in-laws on Christmas Eve, but that's when we do that open-one-gift custom, so the in-laws will just have to understand. Now let's talk about New Year's."

A buddy of mine who came from a large family once described the process as above and reckoned it to be "only slightly more structured than basic training."

But we need traditions, which bind us together just as ribbon puts the touches on those Christmas packages. And it's a funny thing, but even as kids grow to adulthood and have kids of their own, they yearn to return to the customs of childhood and, eventually, to include their own broods in them.

It's a chance as well to bring the generations together again, though they may be strained by growing older and the desires of the young to cast off the old ways, particularly in those years that Mark Twain once observed were marked by realizing one's parents were really not too bright – until that time four or five years later when they suddenly became brilliant again.

Some traditions, though, withstand the pressure, and Christmas tends to be one of them.

Daniel and Elise, all grown up now, were still all in favor of the Boone trip and the choosing of the trees. Additional family members were added this time – myself, Kevin and Ayden, the latter being 20 months old and Kevin and Elise's son.

We drove out to the tree farm, where the proprietors were full of Christmas spirit and offered the finest hot chocolate and sausage and ham biscuits and other treats. They were reasonably priced, except for Ayden, who has a way of getting free things when he flashes his ear-to-ear smile. He and I, not fans of the cold, were covered up like that character in the tire commercials. It was sunny, and 30 degrees, and we piled into the haywagon, and a tractor pulled us up the mountain, which was covered in spectacular fir trees. It didn't take long to pick out a couple of 7-foot beauties. The farm folks cut 'em down, and the fresh sap hit us with that Christmas aroma.

At the bottom again, we laughed and joked around with other tree huggers. Such good moods that day. One of the folks doing the cutting said it best: "You know people are worried, especially now. And we hear about folks who used to come with Grandma, but she's gone, and they can be a little sad. And maybe people are kind of fussing with their kids when they're walking over ... but the second they get in the wagon, they're laughing and remembering other trips. It makes you feel good."

Yes, it does. Merry Christmas, joyous holidays and happy hayrides to you all.

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