Monday, 5 December 2011

The weight of tradition

I am running a little behind this week (It's only Monday, you say. But this is what is left over from last week, I respond, a touch plaintively.) and so I am still on the second Sunday in Advent, pausing with Floss, and only a day late (it's the thought that counts).

Festive vignette
Whether my thoughts will count, I am not sure, but I can feel that giant Tree of Tradition looming between me and the weak winter sun, and the weight of obligation swinging above my head.

Tradition can be a bit of a millstone, but don't let it shackle you by the neck - cut loose and walk on (being careful to drop it behind you, rather than straight on to your toes). The only obligation you have to others is to smile and be pleasant, and say please and thank you nicely and sincerely - the rest is optional.

Weak at the thought
If the thought of cooking for the 23 people squeezed into your very small house fills you with horror and keeps you awake at night, then think up a new tradition which will enable you to be a beaming host/ess rather than a snarling one.

A season of silly hats
Perhaps someone with a bigger house and more plates is desperate to hold the party, but thinks they can't because everyone absolutely has to squeeze into Aunty Grumpy's bijou residence whether they like it or not? Perhaps you could do two manageably small parties, or alternate years? Or maybe dig a great big hole in the garden and go and hide in it (just remember to arrange the leaves carefully on top so that no one can see your retreat) . . .

A season of thrift and recycling

Then you can concentrate on the happy traditions, the ones that transport you back down the long line of Christmases past, only pausing at the ones that are smiling to greet you. So often these happy moments come down from the attic in battered cardboard boxes (smelling slightly of mouse).

A season of recycling memories
As you pull out the decorations, one by one, the memories come flooding forth, attached to those glitter-encrusted confections of polystyrene and cardboard that your children made in the days when their needs were simple and their vocabulary limited; the bird with the broken beak which is the sole relic of your childhood dreams; the box of carefully coordinated bells and bows marked 'Good taste 15 years ago', which now possess a disappointingly tawdry air.

Beware of the mistletoe
And then there are the words: Christmas is full of words - carols, and stories, and insincere thank you letters, and heated arguments over the right way to cook a turkey. And everything has been said and done and written so many times before, and so much better, that Christmas is a work of fiction from start to finish, an imaginary narrative of bonhomie and homecoming.

Dreaming of a white Christmas
I have my own special Christmas book full of poetry and prose, carols and songs, quotations and verses, and a warm glow of pictures of the past. It was a present to me twenty years ago and (unlike so many presents) I have continued to treasure it, and get it out again every December to wallow in the words of imaginary Christmases in story and history. There is no weight of tradition to burden one here - these Christmases are long gone, and so are those who people the pictures, smiling out of the pages, frozen in time and silently acquiescent in our dreams.

A new tradition in the making
But these stories also show that Christmas can be anything you want to make of it: happy or sad, remembered or forgotten, treasured or dreaded. The important thing is to write your own story, just how you want it, choose your own colours for the pictures, and remember that if it doesn't go quite how you wanted this time, it's like gardening - there's always next year waiting to give you a chance to do it differently.

A present from a friend far away

And if you want to bask in a warm glow of festive nostalgia, my special Christmas book, although out of print, is still available on Amazon here and here - starting price only a penny (which of course sets off a whole new train of nostalgia and reminiscence about geese and old men . . . .).

And here is one that I made earlier, accompanied by a steady gaze


PinkCatJo said...

Aw, I love the bottom picture. Very sweet! x

Fat Dormouse said...

There's a lot to think about here, Pomona, but isn't it interesting how many of our posts are about "cutting loose" from the things that tie us down to Christmas and almost make us miserable in what should be such a joyous season. Hold onto what makes you happy, and lose what makes you stressed: wise words.
God bless

Annie said...

I have a copy of that book too, and also cherish it.

My recipe for Christmas is to avoid unnecessary cooking, and most of my relatives. It's traditional and usually works out quite well ;D

Jill said...

What a lovely, lovely post.

Serenata said...

Beautiful words Pomona, you really do have the gift.

I have just ordered a copy of the book for all of 1 pence!

MelMel said...

Christmas can be a stressful and tiring time for a lot of ppl....we are cooking at my mums this tear, as she and dad are not in the best of health. Dad's waiting to go on the transplant list, new kidneys, so we are all going to be together, but giving them a break from all the donkey work...
Thank you for this it will help people slow down a bit and think about doing less and having more time for the things that really talking and laughing with loved

Sarah - Red Gingham said...

Oh you do write so well my dear! thanks for your helpful words. We do have 23 people here for Christmas this year, but I don't cook anything. I just tidy the house and lay the table. (She says so easily, even though it takes a good part of a month to get it into a condition fit for such a day).

Now tell me about those cute little birds in their scarves? They are adorable!! I was just looking at my birds hanging over a picture when I saw the one I gave you.

millefeuilles said...

Dear Pomona,

That was a brilliantly penned post. I remember reading V Woolf for the first time when I was seventeen and thinking 'that is exactly what I feel'! Well you've managed to capture, dare I say, women's universal truth around Christmas time. As a friend of mine said, who has very high standards but buckles under the strain of Yuletide like the rest of us: 'it'sonlyonedayit'sonlyoneday'. (Repeat mantra like everyday of advent it will either help or get on everybody's nerves.)

I will take to heart what you wrote: it's up to us to write our own story. Well this year we are NOT going to stay with our respective families. We are going away and buying minimal gifts and generally keeping things very simple but with GOOD food, candles, GOOD music and hopefully a suitcase of good memories. We are even debating whether to get a Christmas tree: unheard of before!

I really enjoyed that. Thank you.

Second Chance Tan said...

Thank you for this post - it struck a cord with me. As the Mum of two small children, I am trying to create what will become our own traditions at Christmas, leaving the old ones that cause me stress, anxiety and pain, and identifying the new ones that will be simple and true to our family lifestyle the rest of the year. And this is not easy! I will check out your book x

greenrabbitdesigns said...

Lovely! :)

Madelief said...

Hi Pomona,

Your Christmas book sounds lovely. What a beautiful tradition to start. It must be a joy to leave through the pages each year and refresh your memories of Christmases past.

I hope you will get lots of new memories in your book this year!

Lieve groet, Madelief x

TheMadHouse said...

I have just ordered the book too! I think you are so right about not being bound by tradition. I have felt the need to make changes this year, as Christmas is too painful (mum was found dead on Christmas morn last year).

Thank you for helping me see the joy in small things

Angela said...

Absolutely - let go of what ties you down and tires you out - and concentrate on the joy and love

Great photos as usual - please give details of your birdies-in-scarves!!

blessings x

Anonymous said...

I loved your post you have such a lovely way with words. I'll have to admit I enjoy Christmas much more now that I don't feel "responsible" for making a nice Christmas for the children. I do what I want and everyone seems fine with it.We all have to find our own way. have a wonderful week.

Katy Cameron said...

When I was 18, we were able to totally toss the traditions rule books out the window. Our years of alternating between grandparents ended, so that it was just me, my parents and my gran. I hate turkey, so the turkey flew south, and I now get to make the dinner of more or less whatever I like (we tend to alternate between venison and beef) and my mum acts as sous chef while my dad washes up as we go (and my gran puts her feet up and has a nap between courses ;o) ) Things have been so much less stressful ever since! Well, apart from listening to my granny at my aunt and uncle's telling us over the phone how revolting she thinks our dinner sounds because it isn't turkey...

susan said...

I love Christmas - the family, the baking, the decorating, the turkey roasting. I love the whole lot. Best of all I love Christmas now I have children. They make it magic!

Karen L R said...

I was always a bit of a humbug, until we found our "bit of earth" in Vermont four and a half years ago. Our acres and acres of balsam trees changed the way I felt about Christmas. Being outdoors, amidst the greenery, mountains and fresh air...well, now THAT'S hard to resist! Then tumbling in for hot tea by the stove with friends and family...well, that's even better! I say chuck the expectations and just do what you love.


Carol said...

You can indeed get too bound by 'tradition', the "we always do that" "we always have dinner at yours" "we always stay over" can become a strain and not something to look forward to. Sometimes we need to say that "this year things will be different" and start new traditions.
Love the book, in fact I've popped over to Amazon and bought one! Thank you.
Carol xx

Shocking Hocking said...

another wonderful post Pomona - we do indeed bow under the yoke of "Tradition" - so we started our own - barby and everyone bring a plate - very relaxed - oh, and for the 2nd year running - no tree!

Floss said...

I'm in two minds about this. I think you put it very well yourself, that some traditions weigh us down, but others are what lighten Christmas and make it The Real Thing - without them, Christmas is just a materialistic pig-out. I suppose that we got rid of a lot of the Weight when we moved out to France, and are very happy with the lightening traditions which remain. For me it's as much about the mindset as about how much I do - if I think it's a burden and my family are a nuisance then that's how it will be. If I think it's a joy and that my family are the reason for it all, then the same traditions will be joyful.

A Trifle Rushed said...

I've just ordered your book! Wonderful. What an interesting and thoughtful post, thank you.

A Trifle Rushed said...

I've just ordered the book! Wonderful. I love my family traditions, but everyone needs be flexible and embrace change when it happens. This weekend I told my sons (22 and 24) that Father Christmas is only visiting their little sister (5), they are slowly digesting the news!

Sue said...

I agree with you on so many things. It is important to make your own traditions work for you and as years go on then some have to adapt. I still have baubles from hubby and my first christmas after we married 29 years ago, including one handmade one, but also on the tree there will be 3 angels around the top, one made by each of the children, a tradition that started when they couldn't agree which one should be at the top!

Mrs. Micawber said...

I like the garden metaphor. Good advice all through your post - and what a lovely book.

Here's wishing you a pauseful and peaceful rest of Advent.

Jak said...

A lovely post Pomona. I think I'll start digging that hole in the garden, ha ha!
Jak x

Anonymous said...

oh dear, i did laugh about the idea of hiding in a big hole and rearranging the leaves on top!
i am running behind too, so much so that i didn't manage to enter your giveaway last week! sorry about that.

we always use advent calenders year after year in our house, and indeed we have that lovely stable one on our mantlepiece too :)

i hope the season turns out less stressful and more enjoyable than you foresee!

Mary Jane's TEAROOM said...

Hello Pomona...This is a lovely post which I think we can all relate the years pass ...(along with many Christrmas dinners!)...I feel less worried about living up to expectations and just enjoy the moments...I am so looking forward to Christmas this year...
Susan x

harmony and rosie said...

We have a very small family so have never had to perish the thought of seating 23 around the dining table. However I think we probably generate almost as much noise!
Kate x

Thistle Cove Farm said...

Oh goodness...that tree is simply beautiful...well done! I thoroughly enjoyed this post; it brought cheer to my heart...thank you and Merry Christmas.

Helen Philipps said...

I love Christmas books, and I love the idea of making a personalised Christmas book, but I haven't done so yet...someday I will! Your book looks delightful. I also agree with your wise words.....thank you for them, and the sweet pictures too.
Helen x

Draffin Bears said...

Hi Pomoana,

You have shared so many interesting things, thank you.
We do have to make our own Christmas stories, can be a stressful time but I think we need to relax and enjoy the day with family.
Love your sweet dog in the last photo.

Happy weekend

elizabethm said...

Christmas in our house is long on food, conversation and walks, and short on religion and television. I love having everyone home and the only thing that really stresses me about Christmas is that my husband is not at all a Christmas person and is inclined to grump and get overwhelmed. I still haven't found a solution to that one other than encouraging him to go away and do something in the workshop!

Louise said...

A lovely post! I can't wait to begin my own family traditions but that's a way off yet!

I love your advent calendar! May I ask where I could get one?!

Barbara said...

Carols I just love but they can also make me feel sad.

Wishing you a very Happy New Year.

Susan McShannon-Monteith said...

From way across the pond wishing you a Happy New Year Pomona!
Susan x


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