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Web Exclusive: To Make or Break a Holiday Tradition

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Writer Suzanne Clores tries to create her own unique holiday tradition in this essay. She's the author of Memoirs of a Spiritual Outsider.

Things fell apart at the Godfather Party. As a lapsed Catholic and an Italian who moved away from the extended family, my holiday options were cut and dry: I could lament there's no grandmother in our kitchen sautéing garlic in the morning and layering the meat, cheese and eggs for a pizza rustica. I could long for the days when a family hike up to my grandfather's Hudson Valley grape vines was the best way to get an appetite for apple pie. Or, I could rally my husband and daughter to make our own traditions from scratch. I chose, and still choose, the latter. But it is much easier said than done. 

Stylizing our own holidays was easy at first. At our non-church wedding ceremony, for example, our interfaith minister quoted Gnostic Gospels, Buddhist texts, Native American folklore, and E. E. Cummings. Similarly, the day after a quiet Thanksgiving with my husband's family in Atlanta, we drove to rural Alabama to a friend's bamboo farm. We ate their vegan leftovers and later toured their acreage of oversized grass and carnivorous plants, impressed with our ability to improvise and have it all.

The difficulty came that first Christmas; we had set the bar high, and past adventure had made us cocky. Instead of staying home for a quiet Christmas together, we drove through thirteen hours of bad weather to my parents' house to give them the news that I was pregnant (road trips are more fun, I insisted). We were like weird evangelists, wandering through snow drifts all along the Hudson River towns to tell friends, my parents—and finally--my ailing grandmother—our good news. We were home by New Years Eve, and exhausted. The real do-it-yourself holiday was still to come.

I had committed, insisted, on hosting a New Year's Day Godfather party, and I couldn't bring myself to back out now. The event held too much potential in terms of create-your-own-tradition payoff, so I attacked it as I would have a box of canolis. I contained my first trimester nausea as I prepared anti pasto, swisschard pizza, stuffed mushrooms and lasagna with homemade sauce for fifteen guests. When people arrived bleary eyed and hungover, I put on a happy hostess act despite the shoveling that had commenced. I had expected everyone to know that in an Italian family, food equals love. I had expected, unrealistically, that everyone would act like family.

I did get some satisfaction announcing our pregnancy to the crowd. Everyone mustered the appropriate coos. But it wasn't enough to soothe my rage when I saw a pile of chard on the side of one guest's plate (they picked it off!). It was hard not to wish I had served mac and cheese out of a blue box.

As promised, we screened The Godfather parts I, II, and III. I had forgotten how much violence riddled parts I and II. Nobody stayed for part III.

The mistake had been ours, of course. In my mind, creating our own holidays had to be unique and memorable, or else it wasn't worth it. We had to “do something” in order to “feel something.” The doing had completely overtaken the feeling.

As this holiday season approaches, my husband and I have come to agree: as we grow as a family, we'll grow into our faith. Breaking with tradition is okay, and making a new one might actually take some time. Our daughter, meanwhile, provides us with miniature holidays with every milestone—her first word (angel), her first joke (a fake cough)-- and in doing so she has reminded us of our family truth. Living in the moment is, in fact, our tradition.

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