2008.12.24 Lights out on tradition

Written by David Green.

Colleen is out of town. Here's an old column from 2000.

By COLLEEN LEDDY

I love Christmas. I really do. I love the spirit that propelled my little brother, Mark, when he was probably nine or 10, to greet every passerby as we walked to Macy’s with a cheery, “Merry Christmas!” As a teenager, even though I was embarrassed by his friendliness, I was charmed that even the most hardened New Yorkers returned his greeting with a smile and a wish for the same.

I love the generosity of people who bake a vast variety of fabulous cookies and then give them to others. I love the thoughtfulness of those who search for the perfect gift, because, really, all they want to do is make you happy. I love the lights, the glitter, the glamour, the color, the joy and excitement—the whole shebang.

So why am I so complacent about Christmas taking a nose-dive this year? Why am I not tearing my hair out even though I haven’t made cookies or sent cards, haven’t bought all the presents yet or decorated the front door—haven’t even put up a tree—and there’s less than a week before Christmas.

I’m not sure when this inertia set in but I think it started when I tackled several decluttering projects recently and realized that my kids have so much stuff, I didn’t want to add to it. They don’t need anything, I told myself, as I discovered presents from previous years they never even used.

“Presents we never even wanted,” I imagine they’d say. My kids are no longer interested in receiving the kinds of things I’m interested in giving. Snazzy magnet sets, fake mustaches for every day of the week, a unicycle, a mask-making kit, intuition dolls, gooey glowing eyeballs, angle snot. They want electronics: cordless phones, car stereos, boom boxes. They want expensive name brand clothing. Stuff I don’t think they need. Stuff I don’t want to buy.

Oh, they’ll have presents (especially if UPS comes through with the mail ordered items)—there just won’t be as many and they won’t be very electronic. The stockings won’t be as heavy and the contents won’t be as varied. I’m not a complete Scrooge but I’m not as concerned with wowing the socks off them. I’m more inclined to buy those socks than the $32 pajama set.

In recent years I’ve wanted to downsize Christmas—especially after that walloping big mistake of the TV and VCR purchase last year—but its so hard to disappoint kids on Christmas Day. It’s looking like this will be the year it happens, though. And it’s fitting, I suppose, since not even EMTs could resuscitate the myth of Santa at my house. Keeping Santa alive is a totally lost cause when your kids are 18, 14-1/2 and 12.

They didn’t even remember to initiate our family Christmas traditions that begin Dec. 1, usually with a raucous fight over whose turn it is to open the first door on the Advent calendar, light the candle that I’ve notched into 24 sections, choose the Christmas carol that we sing as we walk upstairs and then select a story from A Newberry Christmas” which David or I read by candlelight as we gather on Rosie’s bed until the candle burns down to the next day’s section whereupon the kids blow the flame out in unison.

I take responsibility for not providing a new Advent calendar (and giving away an old one as a door prize at David’s birthday bash). Somehow I missed picking one up at the after-Christmas sales last year. And I never even thought about getting a candle ready. I’m not even sure the kids were home the first night of Advent. The second night, I got home late and never thought about it. The next two nights were devoted to getting the paper out and preparing for my absence—my friend Pat and I drove out east so I could visit my mom in New York (she’s still suffering from rectal cancer) while Pat drove to the Boston area to visit her mom.

It probably wasn’t until I’d been back a couple of days that I realized we hadn’t begun to celebrate Advent and it was half over. When I called for a candle and lamented the loss of tradition, they groaned.

“Don’t you want to do Advent? I can’t believe none of you remembered or even asked about it,” I said.

Rosie dealt the blow: “It was your tradition. We just did it because you wanted us to.”

“Even when you were little you didn’t like it?” I asked.

“Well, yeah, when we were little we did,” said Ben.

“I liked the stories the first time around,” said Rosie, “but not when you read the same ones every year. We could tell you every story by heart.”

OK, so I pushed it to the limit. I insisted on prolonging an activity when interest was obviously waning. OK, I kind of knew they weren’t into it but I enjoyed the family unity and wanted them to have fond memories of singing off-key as we walked up the stairs, of coordinating their simultaneous blowing out of the candle.

I guess it’s time to accept that the flame has blown out on this tradition.

At times like this I need my little brother around to wish me a cheery, “Merry Christmas!”

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