Lost Traditions

Today’s Advent Calendar Question is brought to you by Natasha KnightBas and Julia D may be interested to know that Natasha has connections to the Netherlands, as you will see. 

About a year and a half ago, my family moved from the US to Holland. My husband is Dutch and it was something we’d always considered – I guess I had the ‘European Dream’! Here we are now celebrating our second Christmas in a new house in a new country with new friends and a whole lot of old memories.

This is a very special time of year for me, it always has been. We, like everyone else, had traditions: I picked up our permit to cut down a Christmas tree in November, about the 2nd weekend in December, we headed into the forest to find a tree. There are four of us in our family and we are are all very opinionated (I don’t know where the kids get it…*clearing throat here*), so it’s wasn’t often a totally painless process. But, every time, we left with a gorgeous tree and went to our favorite restaurant for a long lunch. I won’t bore you with the rest of the traditions, but they’re likely similar to those of a lot of other Americans.

My question for the Advent Calendar readers is this: What Christmas traditions have you lost through the years and how have you noticed their departure?

I ask this because last year was our first Christmas in Holland. The transition to living here, leaving our home and friends and everything we knew behind, was much (much) more difficult than I ever expected.

Last year on Christmas, we were sharing a glass of wine with our new neighbors and my Buurvrouw (neighbor woman translated literally, but I call her friend) asked what our Christmas traditions were.

This was one of those bizarre scenes that I can still recall perfectly today. It was the moment that I realized how, in the midst of the move, we’d lost our traditions. They’d sort of fallen away in the whole process. I felt taken aback and had no answer. It was such a strange and actually quite sad moment.

But, we have small children and the beauty of kids is that they need you. The words of Oriah Mountain Dreamer come to mind: “can you…weary and bruised to the bone…do what needs to be done to feed the children…” (from The Invitation).

So we picked up and went on and I am finding that this year, the second time around, although I still miss the familiarity of Christmas in the US, looking ahead, we began new traditions last year. Here it is, the second weekend in December and we’ll be picking up our tree at a shop and taking down boxes of old decorations and listening to cheesy old Christmas music while we decorate. And while we do it, everyone will complain about the music, some balls will break, the kids will fight, the tree will lean just a little to the left or right and, well, I suppose not all the traditions are really lost so much as hiding.

I wish you all a Wonder Full Holiday Season – whatever holiday you celebrate. And as you take the time to think about the year that’s passed by far too quickly, once again, enjoy the moments of sadness as much as those of joy, it’s all a part of the Tradition.

Question: What traditions have you lost along the way and how have you noticed their departure?

When Gabrielle returned to the Tuscan Bed and Breakfast, it was to let go of the past and begin the long process of healing. But she found soon enough that the guilt tied up with her husband’s death still held her tight in its grip. Julian was captivated the instant he saw the sad, sultry Gabrielle. Having overcome the pain of his own past, Gabrielle’s need drew him. When she trusted him with the story of her guilt, his dominant nature knew what she needed in order to free herself from her suffering. “Guilt left unpunished devours from the inside out,” he said. “Do you need me to punish you?” Gabrielle’s acceptance bound the two strangers in their journey from pain through pleasure and to the dawn of healing.

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65 thoughts on “Lost Traditions

  1. Willie says:

    Actually I have to thank you so much for this. I was about to loose a Christmas tradition this year without giving it much thought.

    When I was younger and I looked at my newly married sister’s Christmas tree with it’s popcorn strings and few decorations, I thought to myself, my tree is never going to look like that ( hey I was young). I started at the ripe old age of 14 collecting decorations. I even bought Christmas decorations when I traveled through The Netherlands at 16. Unfortunately, my landlady threw them all out by accident when I was in my early 20s, and I had to start all over again. That year, my husband, who was merely I guy I worked with at the time helped me put up my tree. He cut the bottom branches off to get the tree in the stock pot ( no fancy tree stand that year). I fashioned a star out of the cleaned branches which to this day we still use, as a reminder of how our past Christmases when we didn’t have much.

    Oh yes, sorry, back on track. Keeping in mind that I wanted our boys to have a full Christmas tree when they first had their own, I started collecting ornaments for them when they were born. Okay so they’ll only have about 22, but that is a start. Each one of them has a theme, gold and white, bears, snowmen. As they became older, they lost interest in helping me decorate the tree. We have many trees in our house, but we have an artificial one that they decorate exclusively in the family room. This year some of the bears and snowmen weren’t even taken out of the decoration box. I put it in the back of my mind that maybe I’ll get decorations for them this year, if I get around to it.

    I realized that this is still important. Right now it might not be to them, but in the future. For every time I take that silly wooden stick star out of the box, and have to rewire it, it brings a smile to my heart. People always ask about the star and I feel the warmth in my heart again when I retell the story ( more in detail than I did here).

    When I buy the ornaments for the boys I take great pains in picking out ones that suit them for that year- what their interests are etc…I have to imagine some day when they are adults and I am long gone that they too will have a warmth in their heart, when they touch the ‘gift’ I sought out for them every year.

    Thank you for reminding me not to let things ‘drop’ just because at this stage in their life they may not be as excited as they once were- but someday their excitement will return. And the memories of Christmas past may be ignited when they unpack their ornaments.

    Merry Christmas

    A Grateful
    Willie

    Like

    • Ana says:

      I think it’s wonderful that this post made you think about this tradition and decide to keep it. Sometimes we do need to give them up, but other times a little effort is worth it. My mom started an ornament tradition, but I was a teenager by then…too cool to care. If she had started it when I was younger, I bet that I would have loved it.

      And yes, I am sure it will mean something when I am older. I hate to think of Christmas without my family.

      Like

    • Natasha Knight says:

      Hi Willie, the other day I came downstairs as usual before my kids did to make school lunches and turned the corner without turning the lights on on the tree. It takes a moment to just hit a plug (and reset the crazy dancing lights to more subtle – non-disco – mode). Anyhow, I walked into the kitchen then turned around and went back to turn them on because I thought ok, if I don’t turn them on today, then maybe I won’t do it tomorrow because it’s easier, and well, pretty soon we won’t be putting that tree up at all… I always want a tree and I always want to take the time to put the lights on! I suppose we just have to take those decorations out of their boxes – always. Thanks for the comment.

      Like

  2. kesummer says:

    We used to always go to friends of ours house on Christmas Eve. We would stay quite late. Even when we had kids they would set up a place for our kids to sleep. When they had kids they stopped. I miss those times.

    Like

    • Natasha Knight says:

      It’s funny how you never think of those things when they’re happening but then suddenly they’ve become a memory. I think it’s all a part of life and Christmas, as wonderful a time as it is, is kind of like a reminder that time is passing.

      OK, I’m kind of depressing myself! It was not my intention with this post.

      Like

  3. Joelle Casteel says:

    I miss St. Nicholas Day and it wasn’t even something that really caught on. Since my now-14-year old was 4, I’ve been trying to learn German- it hasn’t been a painless process and I’m stymied atm. However we’re also culturally German- I’m at least half German in my ancestry. I decided maybe once or twice when he was still elementary-school age to try St. Nicholas Day. For those unfamiliar with the German holiday, on the 6th, kids get small gifts put in their boots. As far as I understand, the notion was to get away from the whole gift thing directly on Christmas. Well now my 14 old is way too old for Santa, he says so St. Nicholas Day passes by unmarked.

    Like

    • Ana says:

      St. Nicholas day…meaning Sinterklaas? That is a neat holiday that Bas wrote about a while back.

      Your 14 year old is too young for Santa. He’ll grow into it. 🙂

      Like

      • Natasha Knight says:

        I’m trying to learn Dutch and from what I hear, German’s 100 times harder. At least I only have to conjugate one verb per sentence! My kids think they’ll get gifts (lots of them) for both the Dutch Sinterklaas and American Santa and this year we just did cookies in their shoes (I too think that’s strange, but my Dutch husband thinks it’s natural to put food in your shoes – and my kid’s feet, well, I love the smell because I’m the mom…) Anyhow, they didn’t get gifts and my older daughter knows we’re Santa or Sinterklaas but my little one was really upset. I did explain that ‘our’ Santa comes in a few weeks and he made a deal with Sint that he’ll get you the big gifts… I know they have a lot already, but there’s some magic in that belief. But Ana, I think you’re right – he’s just too young for Santa.

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  4. Minelle says:

    Hi Natasha, nice to meet you. I am looking forward to putting your book on my list to read.
    It is nice to hear that someone else has opinionated bossy kids. I thought my family was an anomaly.

    I remember when my kids were young I would read the story of the night before Christmas. My kids are older and it is one tradition that is lost.
    However I almost forgot the tradition where each of my kids gets a new ornament. Every year I get one of my beautiful ornaments lost to the “no mom this is mine I remember” I love glass ornaments, so you can imagine which ones I lose. LOL
    So I have taken to labeling the bottom of the ornaments.

    Thanks for bringing us Natasha Ana!

    Like

    • Ana says:

      As if you don’t have 100 books to read already, Minelle? 😉

      I am not at all sure where your kids could have gotten their opinions from. Hehe…

      About reading…that reminds me of a tradition that my family had. Every time we celebrated Christmas, we would read the Christmas story from Luke 2. When it was my year to read I prayed that I could get through “Quirinius” without stumbling. Sometimes I’d just say, “When Qu…Quir…when Quiry-ness was governor of Syria…”

      Didn’t you know that what is yours is your kids’? 😀

      Like

    • Natasha Knight says:

      Hi Minelle, nice to meet you too. Although all I can think of when I see your name is Minelle from Ana’s book! Hope you spanked her for that! I like that tradition, reading the story together. Maybe you have to wait for grandkids…

      Like

  5. Joseph McNamara says:

    I guess I miss my youth and the family gatherings we used to embrace so well. With family now in separate states and locales, that warmth eludes at times. Of course, the loss of my wife which never really goes away is present. My mother is in extended care and I will be with her this year as always, but old memories of a time when family celebrated is missed this time of the year. My Father volunteered as a Santa throughout much of December and we were privy to many shared stories in his travels. My Christmas memories are many and the fond remembrance does embrace this time of the year. Nice to reflect on this, thanks Ana…….

    Like

    • Ana says:

      I don’t think the kind of loss you experienced with your wife could ever go away, or perhaps maybe you wouldn’t even want it to go away. Someone said earlier for “Blue Christmas” that the holidays are a time for both grief and joy. I miss Christmases past, very much. It’s part of growing up to learn how to find joy even in the Christmases that aren’t what we remember.

      I miss being with my whole family. It makes me wonder if I’ll ever have that feeling again.

      Like

    • Natasha Knight says:

      Hi Joseph, I like how you put fond remembrance. And I too miss those old Christmases at home when I was younger (even after I stopped believing in Santa). It just has a feel for it and as much as memories can be bitter and sweet, I wouldn’t want to let them go. Thanks for sharing, Joseph.

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  6. Bas says:

    Lost traditions. We haven’t really lost traditions. But a lot are on hold. That’s because of the empty nest. A lot of traditions are meant for the kids. When we still had small kids in the house, the departure of Sinterklaas, meant that our house underwent a total metamorphose, everybody was doing something with Christmas decorations. Now, there’s just the two of us, and we try to decorate a little something each day.
    I feel for Natasha, Christmas Traditions in The Netherlands are not so elaborate as in the US. That is partly caused by Sinterklaas, being the non-religious (gift-giving) part of the Holidays, so Christmas remained mostly religious for a long time. Our contemporary Christmas is more or less copied from the US, so many things will look the same, but as usual, things are smaller than she must have known. Houses are smaller so the family gatherings have less people. Staying over during the night is hardly possible. Not necessary, everybody always can get home in an acceptable time. Gardens are smaller so you cannot do very much with your garden and because we are all living close together, we always have to be aware that you don’t disturb the neighbours. Well, aside from television characters I suppose not every US citizen lives in a 10 room house with thousands of acres of land.
    So it cannot be to strange here.

    Like

    • Ana says:

      That’s exactly it, Bas. Christmas isn’t Christmas without children.

      My 10-room house with 5 thousand acres of land is quite lovely, thank you. 😉

      The closeness you describe can be community or confinement, depending on how it goes. I miss the small spaces where I could run into people everywhere. I might not actually know them or talk to them, but I liked being with them. I don’t like the spread-out spaces.

      I wonder what Christmas traditions people have when there aren’t children.

      Like

    • Natasha Knight says:

      Community or confinement – sounds like family: the ties that bind and gag… Bas, you know exactly what the differences are that my American friends who haven’t lived her can’t quite understand! I’m just introducing an American Christmas to Holland. You should see the deer all pimped and lit in the garden…

      Like

  7. Celeste Jones says:

    Thank you for this reminder. My tradition is usually just to grit my teeth and get through the Christmas season but I suppose that’s my own doing and there’s no reason not come up with a new tradition. I’ll see what I can come up with.

    Like

  8. Sunny Girl says:

    Natasha, thank you for sharing your Christmas traditions. Most of ours got lost when our daughter married and had children of her own. This year it was nice because we helped decorate her tree with the grands. Many of her ornaments are those passed on from us and from hubby’s childhood. It was a moment in time.

    The one tradition hubby has always observed is watching the movie “White Christmas”. It’s reminiscent of a Christmas as a boy when he and his mom went to the movie to see it when it was first released. After the movie they came out to the first snowfall and he thought it was magical. For years before VCR’s and DVD, we, and all of our friends, would scan the tv listings in search of a showing date. Much easier now, so I can plan on him getting the eggnog, rum and a box of chocolate candy and curling up on the sofa to watch “White Christmas” on Christmas eve. His comment is always the same “Now it can be Christmas”.

    Like

    • Ana says:

      I don’t know if I’ve seen that movie, or at least not for a very long time. My dad’s thing was peppermint ice cream. That was our special Christmas treat. Even more so because the “good” peppermint ice cream only came out at Christmas time. I’m not even an ice cream fan, and one taste makes me feel like Christmas. Mmm…

      My favorite movie is the Rudolph special, the very old one. I think it was in black-and-white but it got colorized.

      Like

    • Natasha Knight says:

      Hi Sunny Girl. When we left the US, my friend sent me the box set of the old claymation Christmas movies that I used to watch growing up. This year, my kids watched it with their Dutch friends and then my kids had to give English lessons so the Dutch kids could be better prepared for Rudolph later that week! I suppose we’re always making new traditions even as old ones fall away or are put on hold.

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  9. jadecaryade says:

    First of all, Natasha, nice to meet you. Love your question. I’ve tried to keep traditions from my childhood and my husband’s. When I was growing up my mother always put on an extravagant Christmas Eve with lots of food and people. Shortly after I married, I took that on, much to my mother’s consternation. She didn’t want to give up doing something she’d always done. We changed things a bit, given that my love is Italian and they have their own traditions Christmas Eve. I, too, buy ornaments for my kids each year, so they’ll have a start to their tree once they are on their own. We’ve got one in college this year, and we got the tree early so he could be involved in at least some of that tradition before he had to return. I haven’t read The Polar Express to them in a few years, but maybe this year I’ll bring it back.

    By the way, your book blurb looks great. Off to buy.

    Like

    • Ana says:

      I can see you and your mom tussling over who would host Christmas. Why do I have the feeling that you got your way? 😉

      I was too old for the Polar Express, and to be honest I don’t really understand the charm. I wonder if I needed to be a kid when it came out or to have a kid. I think there’s nothing quite like a child to make things magical.

      Like

      • jadecaryade says:

        The best part of Polar Express for me was the hot chocolate the kids got served on the train that was ‘as rich and thick as melted chocolate’. And of course the end, when only those who beleived could hear the bell.

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        • Ana says:

          Okay, the melted chocolate is a definite draw. Mm.

          I may be booed as a grinch here, but I’m always a bit uncomfortable with stories directed at children that convince them that Santa is real. All of my fun about Mrs. Claus aside (and anyway, Christmas is only for grownups…giggle!), I wonder about the mixed signals that it might send.

          But…chocolate. I’m always a fan of believing in chocolate. 😀

          Like

    • Natasha Knight says:

      Hi Jadecaryade, I’ve never bought an ornament for my kids for each year but I really like the idea – I read it a few posts earlier as well (note to self to label them:). I always wonder what about our days and years the kids will remember when they’re older and what the ‘feel’ for a certain time of year will be for them. Hey, in a few years, they’ll be the ones writing these posts…

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  10. Bad Penny says:

    So many have married and time must be split during the holidays. I miss the very most our Christmas Morning Breakfast that everyone used to attend. Each year it fluctuates the amount of people that attend, but it’s no longer all of us, and thus I miss that time. We never have a time anymore where everyone makes time.

    I think it’s brought distance in my close-knit family that I never thought was possible. So… I guess that’s definitely what I’ve noticed.

    I’m thankful for my chosen family, they always seem to make time to spend with one another… too bad my blood relatives don’t see it as important as we do.

    P.S. I love Christmas. 🙂

    Like

    • Ana says:

      Christmas morning breakfast sounds wonderful. What did you make? I miss cooking together for holidays. It’s hard to keep up with all of the traditions, but when we let them go we realize how much they meant to us.

      Chosen family is often more important than the people who raised us…but every once in a while the people who raised us surprise us, too.

      Like

    • Natasha Knight says:

      My husband and I are getting more and more alone time as our kids – especially the older one – go to the neighbor alone or go to a friend’s house alone. On the one hand, it’s nice, but on the other, I’m not sure! Someone said to me once when I only had the one child (and she was 8 months old or something like that),she said ‘the days are endless but the years fly by.’ I didn’t believe her back then…

      P.S. – I too love Christmas.

      Like

  11. Sassy Chassy says:

    We have a great many Christmas traditions. With so much family the season is celebrated to the hilt. One tradition that I miss the most is waking up early on Christmas morning to find out what Santa brought in the night. I miss that look of awe and wonderment when the kids first stepped into the room running this way and that! This is our second year out from Santa. We are creating new memories and its nice to have flexibility to celebrate with our little family another day. We were usually rushed Christmas morning so that we would arrive at another party on time. Now we pick a day and leisurely celebrate the entire day together. This is nice and I love that we are creating new traditions. I will always miss those Santa days and get verklemt reminiscing about them.

    Like

    • Ana says:

      What is verklemt? I love learning new words. 🙂

      I miss when Christmas was celebrated on Christmas. I miss being able to be with my whole family instead of everyone being scattered.

      I think it’s neat that it can be a leisurely day of celebration now instead of a rushed affair.

      Like

  12. pao says:

    That’s interesting, to read all these traditions. We didn’t really celebrate Christmas but we did go over to my cousin’s to have dinner. I miss having that atmosphere with family.

    Like

  13. Natasha Knight says:

    Thanks Ana for having me here, it’s a great group! I loved reading all the comments, thank you all for sharing.

    I’m off to bed…it’s 11pm here and must read more of Mrs. Claus’ vengeance… 😉 Happy Holidays all.

    Like

    • Ana says:

      it was wonderful to have you! I’m delighted that you enjoyed the discussion. It was a great post and a great question to get it started. 🙂

      I hope Mrs. Claus keeps you entertained. Fingers crossed. 😉

      Like

  14. Julia D. says:

    I’ve always loved a Christmas tree, and insisted on one our first Christmas. We’ve kept it up for years, but my husband never got into it. And when the kids were grown up, he didn’t want one anymore. I missed it so much. Being alone now, I should buy and decorate one again.

    Hugs, Julia

    Like

    • Ana says:

      I remember how disappointed I was the first time my family got a fake tree. No lovely tree scent, no fun of watering the tree…I missed that. Now that I’m older, I completely understand the convenience aspect, though. 🙂

      Like

  15. SassyTwatter says:

    So looking forward to reading Liaison. I am feeling pretty guilty right now. I decided this year to skip doing all my decorations. I did the basics lights on the house, wreath I. The door & some potted poinsettias & a tree. I just didnt take out the train set that my gradfather gave me when I was 5. I got lazy didn’t want to drag it out. I am still trying to play catch up from being gone as leave again Monday. But it is a lovely tradition and makes me think of my grandparents so I am going to go sort through the holiday boxes and get it out and set it up. Feel like holidays are coming way to fast!

    Like

  16. Joelle Casteel says:

    So after a day away from the computer– and I’m still working through emails from this thread– I’m thinking further about traditions… no tree is set up in my house. As a religiously pluralistic household, we mark a bunch of holidays this month. It can be a mess of traditions. And after the tragedy in Connecticut. But I know both my Master and I carry the stress of “when will Joelle ever see another cent of child support?” Just so lacking in holiday spirit. 😦

    Like

      • Joelle Casteel says:

        True, although I think it may be a holiday story that my Master gets, just after I work on the idea I got for Renee’s “white elephant” story this morning 😀 I don’t know… I’m just carrying too many stresses. I think reading “Vengeance” and then moving on to Sue’s “A Firm Husband” may be just the thing

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