The New York Times posted an article right after Thanksgiving about traditions and ritual; apropos to this time of year. My uncle sent it around to a handful of us whom he thought might be pondering our capability in perfecting a vision of the season. He wasn’t judging. He was joining.
It got me to thinking about what I consider of greatest worth to repeat year after year, formalizing whatever may eventually be handed down as the “Iantosca Family Tradition”. Perfect or not. For my family that celebrates Christmas, I’m not too surprised to discover that most of our standard display feels more like work than tradition—although I’m not sure the two are ever mutually exclusive. The mess of the big tree, the tangle of lights left in a heap at the top of the attic steps last spring, the gaudy, heavy, colorful, glittery, everything else haphazardly scattered about the house by eager teens with short attention spans –- all a seemingly necessary tribute to seasonal ardor…but not an appropriate homage to what some might call tradition. I suppose it looks like a Normal Rockwell painting from the outside, but the way I feel inside doesn’t.
Unless it is dusk. And a single candle twinkles it’s welcome from every window. Or it is first thing in the morning and I giddily (even now) search the doors and windows of the paper advent calendar for numbers counting down the days. Or it’s before bed and all the other downstairs lights are off but the ones on the tree. Everything is still and quiet, apart from for the crackling fire burning down the last log that warms my back before I slip between the sheets. Moments when all is calm and all is bright. And that is all.
Funny isn’t it. That you can’t have one without the other. That the disquiet of the messiness and the busyness and the garishness is the edgy requirement to experience the opposite. That grasping the peace takes equal energy to resisting the chaos. That it is the fertile space between the two in which we can at all appreciate that life is never just one or the other for very long. And so, we surrender.
I hadn’t ever thought about it much before — why I actually like this time of year. But I think it might be that sense of surrender. What has happened in the prior eleven months and twenty some-odd days has happened. For the most part it made me stronger. Or at least it taught me something. Or really, I suppose, I can’t do anything more about it now. And I stand on the threshold of twelve new chapters of narrative to add to this storied life. The year tucks itself in and all I can do is be present amid what was and what is to come. A week of in-between. A week of neither grasping nor resisting.
Perhaps then, this is my tradition. Every year. This quiet surrender. The richness of possibility and opportunity will surely pull at me once the calendar page turns again; perhaps for you too. But for now, indeed, may all be calm and bright.
Happy New Year.