Monday, December 31, 2012

One tradition dies, another is born

Christmas Eve, as I was filling the last stocking and preparing for bed I was struck by how much life has changed over the past year, and how much more it will do so in 2013.

At that moment I realized we had lost one holiday tradition that has been a part of our family just as much as Christmas trees and wrapping paper, when I noticed there was no milk and cookies on the table for Santa.

That’s right – my little one, who turned 11 earlier in the year, has finally reached the point where she no longer believes in dear old St. Nick. I have five kids, with the oldest of the brood turning 21 in October, and for 20 years we’ve placed the little mug of milk and a saucer of cookies on the end table nearest the Christmas tree. For 20 years the last thing I’ve done after everyone is long gone to bed and I’ve filled the last of the stockings is sit on the sofa, watch a little television or listen to some music and munch on those cookies. Some years there was a note, and I’d scrawl out a reply, taking great pains to hide my handwriting style.

As you can imagine, with five children our house has always been busy, particularly at Christmas. When our four oldest were really young (my first child was a month short of turning 5 when the fourth one was born), after I’d eaten the cookies and left the note my wife would cover the doorway to the den with wrapping paper, as if the entire room was one big present. That served the dual purpose of enhancing the excitement for the kids and keeping them out of the room in the wee hours of the night.

I can’t tell you how many Christmases we’d be awakened at 2 or 3 in the morning, the sound of little footsteps running up and down the hall, hushed voices talking about what might be behind the wrapped door or how many hours were left until they were allowed to rouse us from bed. We’d chase them back to bed, only to repeat the process every hour or so until 7.

Despite running low on sleep, that was always great fun.

Gradually those days gave way to less excitement, and now, for the first time in two decades, sadly, no Santa, and already I’m missing those days when Santa was real and the kids were little.

A new tradition was born this year, though even that one has a bit of bitter-sweetness to it.

My oldest daughter is engaged to be married, having officially accepted the young man’s proposal in October. Every year we have a family Christmas Eve dinner, just my wife and I and the kids. This year we added to that mix the young man engaged to my daughter. After eating, the two of them opened the presents we all had purchased for them, then left on a four-hour drive to his family, where they spent Christmas Day and the days afterward.

Saying bye to the oldest of our crew on Christmas Eve, watching her ride away to spend Christmas with her soon-to-be husband and his family is the new holiday rite we’ll be observing. My daughter is ecstatic over her pending marriage and her new family, and I’m genuinely happy for that, but it’s still a little sad to see the holidays change, knowing we may never all be together on Christmas again.

Change, of course, is the nature of life. I think it was Billy Joel who sang “Life is a series of helloes and good-byes.” I was a very young man when I first heard those words, and while the young tend to think they understand everything in a way no one else can, it’s only with age one truly starts to understand such sentiments.

I’ve witnessed a great deal of change in recent years, with the declining health of my parents, approaching adulthood for my kids, and my own advancing age. Still, I’m not unhappy. My oldest is as content with her life as I’ve seen in a long time, and my other children are growing up to be, if I do say so myself, nice young men and women whom I’m proud to know.

The coming year offers great promise: the aforementioned marriage, my second daughter’s transfer from a community college to a four-year school, and I hope my continued development and success in the literary world.

Still, forgive me if every once in a while I sit and wish for times gone by.

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