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In My Own Words

Traditions old and new

Jacqueline Quillen
MSM Class of 2010

(12/2011) Hello Christmas season! I welcome you with open arms the day after Thanksgiving as I sleepily but hastily walk through the mall at 5 a.m. to catch all the great sales. After a few days of recovery, my fingers shop just as fast on Cyber Monday to get the online deals. Still, no matter how much Christmas shopping I try to finish on these two great sale days, I inevitably have to face the crowds and venture to the mall for last minute gifts.

All shopping aside, the season of giving is upon us. It is a time of tradition, whether we keep old traditions with family and friends, or make new traditions. It is the traditions that make the holidays so full of cheer.

This year I look forward to making new traditions with my own family. I have never before had to think about making the traditions happen; what I mean is, I was never the parent making the traditions for my kids. I was always the kid just going along with whatever we were doing. Now it is my turn to carry on old and make new traditions for my family. It will be interesting to see which traditions will last through Lucy’s days as a parent.

In preparing for our first Christmas together as a family, Sean and I have been reminiscing about past Christmases of our childhood. Out of all the traditions, I am so thankful we both have fond memories of going to a tree farm and cutting down a Christmas tree. I will never have a fake tree!

My family and I usually go to the tree farm on the Saturday after Thanksgiving or the first Saturday in December before all the good trees are taken. I love picking out the tree, but I hated being told to stand guard at a potential tree while Mom and Dad searched for a better tree before settling on one. It felt like I was standing by the tree for hours before they returned with a tree bailed and ready to go. I do remember a few times, though, that the tree I was guarding with my life actually turned out to be "the one."

Once we find the perfect tree, Dad begins sawing away at it. In the distance I hear another little kid shout, "I found a good one!" followed by the sound of a chainsaw and a tree abruptly falling to the ground. It took them all of two minutes to saw down their perfect tree and they were able to get on the next tractor back to the parking lot to enjoy the free hot chocolate Meanwhile, Dad is still sawing away at the tree, while all of us push the tree towards him to make it easier. A half hour later, we get to the bail station and then hop on the final tractor back to the parking lot.

From that moment on, Christmas is the only thing on my mind. The holiday cheer is inescapable; I hear it on the radio, smell it in the kitchen, feel it from smiling faces around me and see it wrapped around banisters and hanging from houses in sparkling lights.

The night after we set up the Christmas tree, Dad and I decorate the outside of the house. For a while, we were the only house on the block lit up at Christmastime. A few people caught on and put up a few strings of lights, but for the most, our house lights up the entire block. Seeing the dark streets lit up by tiny white lights on trees and houses is another one of my favorite things about Christmastime. Light is always welcoming, but there is something about Christmas lights on dark, cold winter nights that make the frigid air seem not so bad.

Many traditions, like the tree farm, will carry on with my new family. Though, instead of making Lucy stand guard by a tree, I will bring flags to mark the potential keepers. She will thank me. Another tradition I will keep with Lucy will be reading The Polar Express as a bedtime story on Christmas Eve.

Traditions may be somewhat different for my parents this year, too, since my older sister and I are both gone on our own. One thing is for sure, Dad will definitely get slippers from Santa and he will tear the box to shreds when he opens it like a little kid. Luckily we know what size slipper he is now so we do not have to return them the day after Christmas. I remember a few years in a row when Mom bought the wrong size, but Dad still opened the box like a little kid. We would then have to explain to the sales associate why the box looked like a dog got a hold of it when we tried returning the slippers. It takes an incredible amount of patience and guts to work in retail around the holidays.

I love shopping around the holidays a little too much. Sometimes the sales get the best of me and I end up giving myself Christmas presents. When I was little, however, I would say the only thing I wanted for Christmas was world peace. I wrote a letter to Santa every year with a wish list of regular kid gifts, but sure enough, world peace was also on that list. I promise I was not trying to win a beauty pageant; I just always wanted to remember that Christmas is not all about the presents. In recent years I have enjoyed the traditions of the holidays more. I guess I appreciate the traditions more just by being older. For me, the best part of this time of year is being with family and friends. I could do without the presents and have just as good of a time.

There is a rewarding nature to giving presents, however. It feels good to give someone a gift that they truly enjoy and appreciate. Gifts do not have to be bought, though. It is difficult to buy a present for every person you care about. No one can realistically afford that, and if you can, you should donate your money to people who cannot afford food or shelter. This time of year is about giving. Sure we enjoy giving things that we buy, but remember what kinds of things we can give without buying – love, kindness, hospitality, life and the list goes on and on.

Giving is a part of the holiday traditions. After all, it is the season of giving. After binge shopping on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, I challenge myself to first think of gifts I can give without buying. What can I give of myself to help others during this time? I encourage others to do the same. Volunteer your time, donate to charity, write a note or bake cookies for someone you care about. I always say the best presents are homemade.

Merry Christmas! May your season be full of good spirit and giving.

Read other articles by Jacqueline Quillen