Ancestral energy lives in the stars above us, the stones beneath us. Their memory gathers in oceans, rivers and seas. It hums its silent wisdom within the body of every tree.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Talking Tradition on Christmas Eve

I alternately titled this post “Love and Magic”, but I thought that might be too abstract. Or too simplistic. I’ve been thinking a lot about traditions this season. The ones I have are the ones I grew up with and I realized how strongly my personal traditions were dictated by my childhood. Can I call it a tradition then?
Somewhere in my head, tradition means something done because it has always been so, passed down through generations. But in my heart tradition means something done because of an emotional connection/response to it that it bears repetition. Or something like that.
I think something can be both a tradition and an adaptation of the original. I don’t have children, so I couldn’t do Christmas exactly the way we had or it would be less meaningful. What my parents did was to serve us a feeling of wonder and joy. I hold onto the essence of that tradition.
When I was a child, we opened up our stockings while we waited for my Grandpa to arrive. He was always there when we opened our presents. While the coffee brewed and the cinnamon buns baked in the oven, we would eat the orange from our stockings. The coffee was for my grandpa. The cinnamon buns were an annual treat.
It was years before I realized that my Grandpa got up every Christmas early in the morning with my Grandma, who always worked the morning shift at the hospital, so other nurses with children could be home with them. They’d have their Christmas morning together before she left, before dawn. Thank goodness Santa had already been there, I thought when I was little. My Grandpa would spend a quiet morning until we called him.
It was never more than eight or ten minutes before he arrived. Which is forever to children on Christmas morning. We would jump when he walked in the door, never wanting to give him a chance to take his coat off. My parents would chide us but he understood. Grandparents always understand.
I envy him that stillness he enjoyed, now too old to ignore the fast-paced world around me. So part of my adult tradition has become that we open our stockings first, slowly, to prolong the morning. We bake cinnamon rolls while we eat oranges. And before we get around to exchanging presents, we leave a sweet roll and a cup of coffee on the table near us. It’s been a decade since he passed, but my Grandpa has never missed a Christmas.
Traditions become habit and sometimes, they get lost in translation, though the heart of them remains. It stirs my creative juices and I can see an alternate future in my mind. If I had children, and they passed down the traditions I shared with them, how might that evolve? How might descendants who come after us, who could not know us, adapt such a small gesture?

Raya carried the heavy tray from the kitchen into the living room where her family waited. Her hands were sweaty but she pressed the metal against her belly for support. It was the first time her mother was allowing one of the kids to perform the ceremony. Her sister Krina said it was bad luck to even stutter or trip over a word, and Raya’s tongue was often slow. She didn’t need more bad luck. The young girl’s bare feet padded quickly across the floor and she held her breath as she set the heavy tray down.
Her family waited in the dark room around a small tree aglow with brightly colored lights and hung with small paper ornaments covered in wishes. They wrote out wishes for everyone in their family each year. Raya had spent time on her wish for her younger brother Bitt, who currently fidgeted, looking longingly at the tree.
He had dark features, like her mom and her dad, and her two sisters. Only Raya bore the pasty skin offshoot of some distant relative, freckles dappling her nose and cheeks. Their family photos were humorous.
She reached up for the shelf above the tree, where an old ceramic mug sat. Its handle had been glued back on a few different times over the years. It was the cup her mother had grown up using, cool against her skin.
She lifted a steaming pot from the tray and poured the rich brew into the cup. She held her hand steady. One seamless pour. Not a drop wasted. She raised the cup up and set it on the shelf beside faded ancestor photos.
Raya took in a deep breath once the cup was out of her hands. She bowed to the shelf and the offering, before walking to the door. She opened it out onto the street. “We invite the grandfathers and grandmothers. We are because they were. Be welcome. Be warm.”
Her family echoed. “Be warm. Be welcome.”
Winter winds swept into the house and Raya shivered. As she closed the door, the other children ran to the tree, where a present waited for each of them. Raya ran to join them but her mother caught her by the hand, pulling her into a hug.
“That was beautiful, my darling,” her mother smiled. “Happy Solstice.”

I see love in that. We may not have known our great-great- or great-grandparents but, in some way, we do. Our grandparents raised our parents and our parents raised us. Other hands and hearts raised our grandparents. We know them in the traditions that have been passed down, the ones that have meant enough to be carried on. Whether we know the stories or not, their origins are in love.
Magic, wonder, and love are the legacy left in the wake of meaningful traditions. Whatever you practice, whatever you believe, whatever you celebrate at this time of year, that holds true. As your family gathers together this holiday, be sure to share the stories associated with them.

Many blessings to you and yours.

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