But with each passing year, some of the traditions fall by the wayside. The movies on Christmas night was the first to go. With the additions of my nieces and nephews, either someone stayed behind and babysat, or no one went. At first, it upset me. I don't like change in general, and I hate breaking traditions. Then I started to accept that we would, at best, watch a rental at home and, more likely, do nothing.
And with each passing year, I hear myself utter the same sentence: It doesn't feel like Christmas. Whether this has to do with growing older, or the fact that it's generally 70 and sunny on Christmas Day, I'm not sure.
This year, again, I found myself thinking it didn't seem like Christmas. We had done most of our gift-giving at Thanksgiving because my sister and her family were spending Christmas at her in-laws. And even the traditions we upheld didn't quite seem the same.
Christmas Eve we had lasagna. My mom made me a special version with corn noodles, which was extremely sweet since I can't eat "real" pasta anymore. No Mexican food because she figured I eat it all the time since it's one of the few things I can still eat. Before the service, we met my grandparents and uncle at the cemetery. My mother had read somewhere that in Austria, on Christmas Eve, they light candles at the graves of deceased family members in remembrance. So off we went to do this.
At each grave, we paused to speak a few words. But all anyone seemed to come up with was food-related. Maybe we were hungry. "Mom always baked a cake. Sometimes it didn't turn out. One time she made me a birthday cake and the whole thing fell over!" "She always liked to make cookies at Christmas." "I remember that. I got to decorate them." The next one: "The one thing about her, she was a perfectionist. If she baked a cake, it was perfect." "Boy, she sure was a good cook." The next: "I remember he used to always give me cups of marshmallows. And sugar cubes." It wasn't quite as moving as I think my mom imagined.
We went to the Christmas Eve service, as usual. But I found myself wondering how many more songs they really needed to sing, and frustrated that no one thought to add more deacons to serve communion to a congregation that size. Even when it came to my all-time favorite part - the lighting of the candles while singing "Silent Night" - all I could do was laugh because my brother kept blowing out my candle. And afterwards, as I was telling one of my friends how I can't eat the bread in communion because of the celiac, my mom burst out in relieved laughter. "I forgot you couldn't eat it! I thought you had some problem in your life and you didn't feel you should partake!" "So, um, why did you think I drank the juice?" "I thought in between the bread being passed and the juice that you prayed through the problem!" Only my mom.
After the service, Mom wanted to drive back to the cemetery to see if the candles were still burning. To be honest, I just wanted to go home and put on my pajamas. I'm not one for being dressed up for long. I settled for a stop at Sonic to get drinks. Because of course you should have 32 ounces of diet Coke from Sonic to go to the graveyard. Thirty minutes later (short-staffed, you know, because of Christmas and all), we had our drinks in hand and we were off.
We made the ten minute drive back to the cemetery. As we drove between the trees that line the entrance, it was dark. Then, off to the right, we saw two flames glowing in the night: my grandparents. As we wove further in, another: my stepgrandmother's first husband. Off in the distance: my other grandmother. And further around, a family friend. The only sound in the car was the Trans-Siberian Orchestra playing quietly on the radio. It was lovely. And in that moment, a new tradition was born.