Thanksgiving is usually spent in Maine on a weekend, as our grandchildren traditionally spend the day with their other grandparents. They are grown now, adults themselves in colleges, but still continue this tradition. Their father remarried and they now have a little brother who is just beginning family holiday traditions, and so they go on.
Christmas in my childhood was always spent at home, with my sisters and brothers, and our new toys, and no school, and a family meal.
Grandparents had passed away before many of us were more than young children, and our parents were the oldest generation. Now, they, too, have passed away, but not before knowing all of their grandchildren, and passing on their own traditions with an expectation that they would be followed.
Our daughter (their mother) has a new partner and wanted to spend the holiday with his relative, an elderly aunt, so Rick and I made plans to have a quiet Thanksgiving here at home, just the two of us. Our son is a young firefighter and works holidays so that those with children can be with them.
It was a mild, quiet day together, and Rick and I enjoyed the time together, sharing a small turkey dinner. Next year, I think we’ll invite friends to go to the senior dinner here in town the week before the holiday, and leave the day itself open, as we’ll have a new daughter in law with her own family. We will take our cues.
Their wedding is next fall, and is going to be a weekend event in the White Mountains. It will be a small gathering as compared to weddings past, consisting of immediate family and the couple’s friends. It is what they want, and we will do our best to see that it is what will be.
Family holidays had always been centered around the previous generation, who have now all passed on. We are now the seniors, with grandchildren’s and great-grandhildren’s generations finding their own traditions. Our generation has shifted our focus from our parents’ to our children’s holiday celebrations, and we travel when needed rather than uprooting them from their holiday settings.
There are times when we remember our years as the parent-generation, and look back and know that uprooting our own children to visit our parents’ houses for every holiday meal may have been what we thought right at the time, but now wonder why we tolerated that expectation. It is not what our parents did. There were no grandparents to visit for holidays … they had passed years earleir. We knew little of their lives. The tradition of spending holidays at the grandparents’ homes evolved when our parents generations became the grandparents generation. That tradition became an expectation of our generation to fulfill. It was our children’s generation that grew up with grandparents who expected to be the home base of holidays. It is a tradition that Rick and I have not held onto for our own children; instead, we have been willing to travel to them to accomodate the other half of their famiy. It is not, in that sense, following a tradition; it is, instead, allowing them to create their own… and feeling relaxed that we can play a passive role when invited to do so.
My remaining sisters and brother each handle the holiday sharing in their own family’s way. I think of our grandparents, the immigrants who came here, as the seeds that bore fruit and the fruit became a tree. The trunk of our tree, our parents’ generation, is now absent but present in our thoughts. We are the branches and our children are the outer branches and their children are the lighter branches and their children are not yet more than twigs. The distance between the main branches is great, as need be … a tree would not stand long if all the main branches were close together. The in-laws are off-shoot branches of their own with their own network of outer branches that celebrate holidays in their own way, in other places, and to which our outer branches are connect and drawn.
Three of our main branches have died, a sister and two brothers, but the outer branches connected to them are still growing; some of the outer branches face in very different directions from the others, and may not share the same rays of sunlight other than with their own siblings. Location makes a difference; distance makes a difference. The outerbranches are cousins … we ourselves were cousins, yet did not celebrate holidays with our cousins. Though connected at the level of our roots, many of us were not entwined in our growth. And so why would we expect our outer branches to celebrate holidays together as adults with their own entwined spouses and their own children? They have siblings with which to share things, when sharing is possible.
In time, more of the main branches will weaken and will need to conserve their remaining energy to support only their outer branches, with little left to support the other main branches. It is what happens in a life cycle ~ despite the word cycle, it is not infinite. Trees like redwoods will stand for hundreds of years. Others will bend and break in the wind and weather. Birch trees have a short life span. Oaks live long lives.
The holidays seem to invite this kind of reflection … of retrospection, of respected perspective, acknowledged differences, and of acceptance of the finite end of the cyle of life … the death that awaits all living things. Those who have passed on are not forgotten ~ those who remain here and witness the endings as they occur are left the wiser, and the more prepeared for the inevitable changes that life requires of all of us.
Thomas Friedman wrote, in THE WORLD IS FLAT:
”Does your society have more memories than dreams?” (he goes on to say)… organizations and societies are the same. If they are focussed on the past, if memories exceed dreams, they are in trouble.”
When memories exceed dreams, the end is near. Holding on to traditions when the trunk of the tree is passed on will not strengthen either the main branches nor their outer branches … continuing to ask the same nutrients from the soil generation after generation will weaken the soil itself, and it will not be able to sustain that tree any longer, and the full tree will die and fall.
When dreams outshine memories, new growth is possible. New growth may require new forms of nutrients, and may turn in new directions, and establish in new locations. I look forward to the differences in holidays of our future. My memories do not exceed my dreams. I am open to change, and to difference; if shedding the memories’ expectations is choosing new nutrients, I am willing to do that. It is the outer branches of any tree that blooms most beautifully. It is the main branches that must bend in the wind while bearing the weight of the weather to allow the outer branches’ twigs to reach for the sun and shine.
Our grandparents came from across the ocean, leaving all family connections behind and broken, and their children, our parents, chose their own traditions which became expectations upon us. To sustain life, it is time for change. The outer branches will spawn seeds that will perhaps blow in the wind, in a new direction, where they will establish their own holiday traditions. I wish them well. Our generation is one of memories, as we were taught to remember those who have gone on before us. We lived to meet our parents’ expectations. In many ways, we did just that.
I think our grandparents felt differently about memories and dreams. I believe they had dreams and the courage to seek them out. I wish for our grandchildren more dreams than memories, so that in their lifetime they, too, will find happiness and light. As our grandparents did.