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Four Years at the Mount

Holiday traditions

Late Start

Leeanne Leary
Class of 2017

(12/2016) For my entire life, the holiday season began much earlier for the rest of the world than it ever did for me. The streets all throughout the neighborhood were lined with lights, Christmas trees lit up the windows, and snow lay on the ground all December long, but in my living room, it was still October for all intents and purposes.

First, I would like to make something clear. I do not live in a family of Scrooges. My family has (too many) truly beautiful Christmas decorations from a Nativity scene gifted to my parents on their wedding day to a kitchen set covered in snowmen and sets of trains to match. We love Christmas music although we can never agree on a station and all sing horrendously. Nonetheless, December 18 rolls around every year and any sign of this is hidden away in boxes lining our garage shelves serving only as the homes of the stink bugs that have found warmth there this winter.

You see, my birthday is December 19. Not too close to Christmas, but being the same week often means your personal celebration gets lost in the midst of holiday madness. Iím sure many of you can relate.

Iíve never been one for birthday celebrations as Iím much too awkward to be the center of attention for more than a few minutes. My last birthday party was an indoor cookout in fourth grade. When I was young, I was incredulously shy, a shocking reveal to anyone who knows me now, but I was. Because of this, I would have easily gotten lost in the swirl of holiday activity if my dad hadnít made it a point from my first birthday to keep the two separate. My birthday happens every year, and only after that does it become Christmas in my house. There is absolutely no seceding to the pleas of my brother with a September birthday for Christmas music or to the constant casual hints of a Christmas tree coming from my sister who has another September birthday, my dad never broke this tradition.

December 19 is never anything crazy. I typically ask for steak, mashed potatoes, and canned corn for my birthday dinner. For dessert, it is always Rutleyís Peanut Butter Meltaway Cake. Iím sure the name sounds delectable, even to the inexperienced eye or ear, but to those of us who have experienced it, it becomes almost a Pavlovís dog reaction of drool and joy. Layers of rich chocolate cake, peanut butter, more chocolate cake, baked to perfection and topped with peanut butter and chocolate icing. The aroma fills the house from the basement to the top floor bedrooms and signifies the end of my birthday and the start of the Christmas magic.

And so, on December 20 every year begins a flurry of activity. Now, we can wrap presents, buy a tree, switch the silverware and plates and dishes, and crank the Manheim Steamroller Christmas music throughout the house. All on this day, we will bake cookies (all of which will include some variation of chocolate) dip pretzels, and cook pizzelles. Simultaneously, my dad will start pulling boxes down off of the shelves and we will run between the garage and the dining room, setting all the boxes down before opening them. With the cookies coming out of the oven and the instrumental "Deck the Halls" sounding throughout the house, it is finally time for us to join the rest of the world.

We are, naturally, overwhelmed with Christmas spirit, but we are now on a strict time limit. We effectively have three days to feel the joy until Christmas comes and goes. Because of this, we have another tradition. Nothing comes down until we have had our fill. If Iím being honest, this tradition is a combination of laziness and lack of motivation to climb ladders for lights and dispose of a tree that was just set up less than a week before. However, we will call it a tradition. The lights stay up, as does the tree. The holiday cookware, plates, and silverware become "winter" sets and the trains stay out as a result of nostalgia.

This tradition, the former, not the obnoxious latter, didnít become apparent to me until I was old enough to realize that somebody was making a conscience decision to hold off Christmas in our house, and I was not pleased. When I finally came to this realization and announced my distaste, my mom let it go until that night. That night she told me that my dad always wanted me to know that my birthday mattered as much as my siblingsí did and that this had been his doing. The insight in that moment made my 11 year old self feel not only proud, but also loved.

A combination of things happened here. First, I felt my middle child syndrome wash away, if only for a moment. Second, I realized that in a way, we are actually celebrating the holidays, just not in a traditional manner. Third, I realized that although my birthday had never felt too important to me, it was to my dad and so it became so to me.

Really, I should have seen this much sooner Ė my birthday is a part of our holiday tradition Ė our tradition that starts late, continues its course in love, joy, and chocolate, and ends just a little past its natural lifespan.

Read other articles by Leeanne Leary