“That’s why I hate it.”
Seinfeld, “The Strike,” 1997.
What’s your family’s favorite holiday tradition? Tell us about it!
When I was growing up, my family would watch movies together around Christmas time. Big deal, right? Well, this was the Dark Ages -- the early 1970s -- long before Netflix and cable tv, even before video stores and VCRs. These were movies on actual reels of film, delivered to our house in metal cases, two to four reels for each feature. We’d thread them into a rented projector and show them on the living room wall.
And I was the Christmas ham. Yes. I was 8 or 9 years old, and when Dad would change reels in the middle of a movie, I’d get up and entertain the family: draping myself in a blanket like Rudolf Valentino in “Son of the Sheik” and, since it was a silent movie, making up dialog (“Come into my tent. Please to excuse my camel”), or recreating the James Bond fight we had just seen in slow motion -- acting out all the parts myself, naturally. One year I jumped onto the back of a chair, just like Gene Kelly in “Singin’ in the Rain,” but instead of tilting it back and riding it gracefully to the floor, it broke with a loud crack, which everyone except my mom thought was funnier than in the movie.
Everyone in my family struggles with volume control. If you have something you want to say when we are all together, you have to say it faster and louder than anyone else. Last year, during the annual Christmas gift name draw, everyone was talking at once, prompting the need for a “talking pumpkin.” Only one person could speak at once, and they had to be holding the pumpkin. So now at every holiday there’s a “talking object.” So far there is the original pumpkin, the talking candy cane, Easter egg, American flag… you get the point.
Every year at Thanksgiving, we get together at my uncle’s house. He’s a big foodie, and one of his favorite things to eat around the holidays is mashed rutabaga. Keep in mind, nobody else will touch the stuff, but every year he makes a giant pot of it and offers some to everybody. When everyone turns it down, he gets this giant grin on his face and just puts the pot right next to his plate and eats straight out of it along with dinner.
Normally, family traditions are started by mom, dad, grandma or grandpa, but, in my family, our cat decided to start his own tradition. Broken ornaments! Yes, our cat likes to challenge us by hiding inside the Christmas tree and knocking off the ornaments one by one. We find broken ornaments all over our house. We always try to stop him, but he hides deep inside the tree where we can't reach him. An unorthodox way of celebrating the holidays? Yes. But he is a cat after all.
My grandmother insists that we "explore the tastes of other cultures" so we never have the good ole' Christmas dinner. Instead, we have themed Christmas dinners. At Thanksgiving, we pick a different country and for the next month we experiment in the kitchen to make the popular food from that country. Sometimes it's really good (Creole, Italian, German), but other times I really miss the ham and rolls (like the year we did Ethiopian cuisine--and no, i'm not joking)!
If every blood relative within 50 miles was not at the supper table, then any extra chair was filled with men from the Navy base or friends of my big sisters. And if all my daddy's workers had family to go to, then he and mom were sure to put the word out that anyone else with no place to go was invited. I used to be really shy around all those strangers, but, looking back now, that was one of the most thoughtful and generous things that my mom and dad did.
These traditions, big or small, are part of what make the holidays special. So pour a drink and brace yourself, because, as we all know, the holidays bring out the best, worst, and craziest in families