Life with a Smile: Building new traditions — and letting others go

Published 3:17 pm Tuesday, December 27, 2016

By Kate Snyder

Contributing writer

In my mind, Christmas begins with a song. Not just any song. The sound of Christmas is the first four notes of “Joy to the World” as played on a new-age instrumental CD my parents had when I was a child. That was always the first CD we listened to each year and “Joy to the World” was the first track. The notes peal out of nowhere, gentle but crisp, and just like that — it’s Christmas.

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For years, that was the first song of Christmas. The herald of the season. The signal that the festivities could now commence in earnest. Until I got married. My husband wasn’t a fan of new age Christmas tunes and so we settled into our own traditions with their own soundtrack. This year, I queued up the old CD as I dug out my tree and let the familiar song wash over me.

I also put an angel on the top of my Christmas tree. Tree-toppers were always a holiday sticking point with my ex. I wanted an angel or a star or something abstractly shiny and beautiful. His family tradition dictated that the tree be topped with a God’s Eye. You know, the thing with sticks and yarn you make at summer camp. Over-my-dead-body. We compromised with a naked tree top for 10 years. This year, a heavenly being in a red velvet dress is watching over my tree. Sometimes divorce feels like the end and sometimes it feels like the beginning.

For me, Christmas is first and foremost about tradition and family. I’m not trying to downplay the importance of the earthly arrival of the Son of God — truly I’m not — but the things I remember from my childhood are the ping-pong tournaments in the basement of my grandparents’ house and the carols we’d sing on Christmas Eve, packed around their grand piano.

My kids and I are building new traditions now. We laughed our way through a frigid winter hay ride at Shaker Village and spent hours decorating a whimsical holiday coloring tablecloth. I bought a set of handmade plates and mugs from a local potter — blue with white silhouette evergreens — and we ate cinnamon rolls and drank hot chocolate for breakfast.

The tradition-building was not without its challenges, though. My ex-husband and I had long talked about visiting a tree farm to cut our own tree when the kids were older. This year, they did it. Without me. The pictures were gorgeous and joy-filled. I didn’t expect it to hurt so much to see them.

Decorating my Christmas tree was bittersweet this year, too. I absolutely adore my tree — it’s the story of my life, with memories encapsulated in dozens of precious ornaments. But what do you do when the story of your life changes? Two years ago, we made a Christmas ornament with all of our fingerprints, carefully labeled, proclaiming us a family. Who keeps that? And what about the beautiful crystal wedding bells from the year we got married? Hang them? Toss them? Stick them in a box? Like I said, sometimes divorce feels like the beginning and sometimes it feels like the end.

But we press on. I hung the delicate sparkly wedding bells and the family fingerprints. There’s no reason to try to rewrite history. Instead, I worked on writing the next chapter. I bought a paper star lantern for the front window of my house and put up exterior icicle lights for the first time ever. They look magnificent, if I do say so myself. I spent hours sitting on my couch in front of the fire, breathing in the peaceful beauty of my tree. My kids and I decorated cookies and made ornaments and ate gingerbread pancakes. This year was the end. But it was also the beginning.