Those of us that celebrate Christmas have our favorite traditions, but as the years go by and our kids grow older it can get harder to keep up with them. I’m an extremely sentimental person and I tend to relish in things old fashion whereas my husband and J like newer, more modern things. I want to string popcorn and cranberry garlands while they want to hang Star Wars ornaments on the tree alongside The Flash and G.I Joe. Superman’s idea of a Christmas Eve dinner used to be spicy chicken sandwiches from Jack n the Box. I’m sure mother-in-law and Superman’s paternal grandparents provided all kinds of fun Christmassy fun and traditions, but my husband has the memory of an amnesia patient. My mom is one of eight kids and if I wasn’t living in Michigan we always spent Christmas with her parents and siblings. It was a huge affair and just right up my alley. I miss the crowds and craziness of a big family Christmas. Even though my husband seems to have no recollection of Christmas’ past, I know that most people do and the thing I loved the most about Christmas was not the presents, but all the fanfare that came with it. My kids are still very excited about Christmas and carrying on family traditions. They’re still excited and still full of magical wonder and they will most likely carrying our traditions with their children.
The closest family to us are in the Twin Cities (and sadly, I’m not as close to them as I’d like to be) and my grandparents in Leota, Michigan. So when the kids and I moved to Milwaukee on August 14, 1997 we were totally alone and it was a huge culture shock. Superman stayed behind until just before Christmas. He was stuck in the middle of a bad software release. He came out once in September to help us acquire a vehicle, once in October to celebrate the girls birthdays, and for Thanksgiving. Milwaukeeans have their own unique traditions that I had never heard of like Saint Nicks. My kids were coming home all sad and miffed about why St. Nick didn’t bring THEM anything. How was I supposed to know that Santa comes on the 5th to fill stockings in Milwaukee as apposed to coming on Christmas Eve? Uh, news flash, to this mother, apparently St. Nick and Santa ARE not the same people. I was even more confused than the kids were. In San Diego stockings were filled on Christmas morning courtesy of Santa or parents and we kids had never heard of anyone named St. Nick. Or fish fry’s.
Now we were in a new place and by the time Christmas was rolling around without Superman I was getting depressed and doubtful and secretly wondering if he was trying to get rid of us. I figured this was a mighty expensive way of doing it.
I was also becoming even more convinced that we were crazy to leave fair weathered San Diego for Brew city. I didn’t know anyone here, I hated the school system, and it was cold, dark and did I mention, cold? It didn’t help that my children were seven, five, and four and I felt entirely alone in the world. We weren’t involved in a church at that point because he had been raised as Seventh Day Adventist and even if he didn’t practice anything they believed he still showed the typical guilt grip of anyone raised in an “exclusive “religious group or Christian cult. He’d rather we go no where at all than to some ‘Sunday-keeping” church. I had wanted to return to my spiritual roots and live my life for Christ again and I thought in an attempt to avoid raisings little spawns it might be nice to get our kids into a good church. But for Adventists, going to church on a Sunday is as good as taking the mark of the beast. Sleeping with your friend’s wife, not so good, but going to church on Sunday? Abominable.
So, here I was all by myself with three young children. I wish I could say that I got out there into the greater area of Milwaukee and participated in events and joined groups, but I didn’t. I now know I had S.A.D which was later joined an extreme bout of depression.
I was living on the northwest side of Milwaukee and since the school system there is totally worthless I drove J back and forth every day to one of the better choices of lousy schools. I was very bored and stressed and when I’m stressed I bake. I baked a lot of cookies those first few months and the weeks leading up to Christmas. I was baking batch after batch until my kitchen looked like a commercial baker. There were only four of us. And since my doctor told me I needed to drink more milk, which I don’t like, I convinced myself that eating a few freshly baked chocolate cookies was the best way to get them down. My logic was flawed as I discovered later when suddenly I grew a third butt cheek.
It has been hard to keep up with family traditions living in a city without any family. My brother-in-law came out here for years but when a girlfriend came along that was the end of that. In San Diego we always went to see Christmas lights at Candy Cane Lane, but since we went out to St. Paul to spend Christmas with my maternal grandparents and other relatives we missed that first year. With each year I tried to get The Husband to take us to the Candy Cane Lane in Milwaukee, but something always got in the way. I even tried to guilt him into it by reminding him that donations go to the MACC Fund which helps kids with cancer. We’ve never been there as of yet.
My husband is the kind of guy that has to be pushed into a lot of family outings. Not because he doesn’t like spending time with us, but because he’s allergic to crowds, socializing, and he gets cranky at anything that feels remotely like a hassle, which is almost everything when you have children and you’re married to me.
I have carried on some of my childhood traditions though and we’ve made some new ones.
Candy Canes- we always hung candy canes on the tree as ornaments. I think my maternal grandma started this and even though my mom was never very into Christmas she did this as well. Now there are all kinds of fancy flavors and different colored candy canes and Superman tries to come home with chocolate mint candy canes and fruity striped ones, but as a kid we always had traditional peppermint candy canes with red and white stripes and that’s what I have to have on the tree. A new tradition I’ve added is reading the kids the Legend of the Candy Cane and if I’m feeling really ambitious we’ll make Candy Cane Cookies.
Popcorn- We strung popcorn on the tree with cranberries and I try to do this with the kids as well, but the darn cats keep eating up my garland. You must use stale popcorn, which I learned the hard way. These are things you never see as a kid and one year I tried popping the popcorn with the kids and all I created was a mess. Plus Snoo kept eating it all up before we could get them onto the string. She’s good for that.
Caroling- I loved caroling as a kid. Christmas music is some of my favorite music of all times and some of my best Christmas memories as a kid is when I went caroling. Some of my Christmases were spent in Michigan and we’d bundle up and make the rounds with church groups or girl scouts and the evening always ended with hot cocoa, apple cider, and cookies. This was nearly extinct because we didn’t start going to church regularly until around 1999 and my husband seems allergic to anything remote social or communal.
Looking at lights- See above. Now my kids are lucky if they get drive around the surrounding houses.