Traditions are really important in my family.
We always went to pick out our Christmas tree at a nearby farm, which are all over the place in Oregon. Rain or shine (usually rain) we would tromp around in our mud boots until all five of us could agree on the “perfect” tree (no small feat, I assure you) and then my dad would lay on his back and saw the thing down with the cheap, flimsy saw they give you.
After that we would go eat hamburgers and french fries at the hole-in-the wall burger joint down the street.
For as long as I can remember, we visited Santa Clause at Meyer & Frank somewhere around the 15th of December. We’d eat dinner near Pioneer Place in Portland, Oregon and then wrangle the troops to go sit on Santa’s lap and get our picture taken.
Sometimes we would wait in line for hours. That’s how important this tradition was.
When we were little, my brother and sister and I enjoyed riding on the little toy train that circled a room that looked like it had thrown up Christmas decorations.
We would ride around and around and around while my parents stood in line holding our places.
The older we got, the less appealing that miniature train became, so we would just wait in line too. It was never clear to any of us when the tradition was supposed to end (how old is too old to visit Santa?) so despite some resistance from certain parties which shall remain unnamed, we just kept at it.
Up until last year (my brother, 31, my sister, 24, and me, 29) have a Christmas picture with Santa.
Needless to say, Santa’s lap is getting a little full.
So you can imagine the surprise I felt two Christmases ago when my mom suggested, out of nowhere, that we change our tradition for Christmas morning. What if instead of our usual Christmas pajamas, performance of The Christmas Story, hot cocoa, cinnamon rolls, and happy unwrapping —
What if we packed lunches, and took them around the city?
What if we handed out food to people who didn’t otherwise have anything to eat?
My mom, usually the upholder of tradition (or the tradition hall-monitor, however you like to put it) gets all the credit for this great idea. So on Christmas eve, instead of making our last minute shopping runs to complete our gift lists, we went to the grocery store instead. We bought bread, lunch meat, fruit, little bags of carrots, bags of chips, bottles of juice, bottles of water, and peanut butter and jelly.
Instead of distributing the “Christmas Eve gifts” (which are always Pajamas), we made sandwiches.
We cleared off the every kitchen surface we could find and laid out bread like blankets across the table, island, the counters. We made every combination of sandwich we could think of. We put them in brown paper bags, and labeled them.
Then we stuffed our fridge.
We woke up the next morning without Christmas pajamas, and without cinnamon rolls, but with an antipation I hadn’t felt in long time on Christmas, or maybe ever. There was also hot chocolate, thanks to my mom, who decided to make a huge batch of it and put it in a thermos to give away with the lunches.
We packed coolers until nothing else would fit, packed the trunk of our car, and then just started driving.
The next few hours weren’t revolutionary. We didn’t accomplish world peace or end world hunger. We just looked people in the eyes, and asked if they wanted a sandwich.
It was so simple.
Sometimes less is more around the holidays.
We didn’t have any elaborate gifts to offer them, although after a few hours I wished I had a coat, or a blanket, or a dry place I could offer to let them sleep that night.
But instead we just offered them a little part of our Christmas tradition. A cup of hot chocolate. A conversation.
We looked them in the eyes and told them they weren’t alone on Christmas.
We laughed a lot that morning, maybe more than any other Christmas we’ve had. We laughed at my mom, who was the master at convincing people to try her hot chocolate, even if they initially said they didn’t want it (the sign of a good mom) and at my sister and I, who were doing our best to keep the “don’t-you-dare-take-my-picture” tradition alive for Christmas morning.
For such a young tradition, I think this is one of my favorite Christmas memories.
Traditions are so wonderful at the holidays. They make us feel all warm inside, and nostalgic, and at home. But sometimes, just like with anything, our traditions can get in the way.
Sometimes we have to let go of our traditions to experience true joy in the Christmas season.
Are you Packing Light this holiday? How have you experienced that less is more?
[photo: paparutzi, Creative Commons]