Traditional Essay

With Christmas comes a lot of traditions. One very traditional newspaper (The Wall Street Journal) has a traditional editorial they run on Christmas. A Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Vermont C. Royster wrote it in 1949, and it is a good one.

It’s easy to insist on traditions at this holiday time. It is meant to tie us to our past, remind us of who and where we came from, and so the people who we came from influence us.

The songs we sing and the pies we make–Ham or turkey? These questions are already answered. We could make a different choice, but it is not breaking new ground.

We came from traditions, but then again, we have to take those traditions forward in a way that makes sense with the present.

We cannot completely clone the holiday experience we were given. If we are to hand it on to our children, it takes new people to move into the future. To procreate requires another person, and then those people thus created flavor the holiday experience too.

But that’s not even addressing the dead moose in the room:

Maybe we don’t want to recreate our traditions. Maybe they were not at all what we’d like and we want to go in an opposite direction. Not all traditions should be perpetuated.

Vermont C. Royster, the journalist who wrote the Christmas (and thanksgiving!) essay for the Wall Street Journal decades ago, was bequeathed a family tradition. His full name is Vermont Connecticut Royster. In his family, male children were traditionally given the name of two states to live with.

His uncles were named Arkansas Delaware, Wisconsin Illinois, Oregon Minnesota, and Iowa Michigan Royster. Really.

He himself had daughters, and named them Frances and Eleanor. He left that tradition behind.

It’s okay to do new things. To make a different choice.

Bringing in close friends has it’s own name now–chosen family. People who have been close and supportive who have become as close or closer than family–that is chosen family.

Despite the weight of tradition, I still get to choose. I can choose which traditions to keep and which to drop. I even get to choose the people I celebrate those traditions with. Peace and Joy are the point.

A Christmas Be-ing

The Hallmark channel is at its apex right now:


They have their niche, and this is it. I just read that they have increased their Hallmark Christmas movie output this year. Last year they released


In 2018, they have released thirty-eight. Because people are watching.

I’ll cop to it. I watch the Hallmark Christmas movies. At the end of an exhausting day, I find it relaxing to watch a woman and her friends walk around in the daylight drenched snowscapes.

…None of these women commute to their ephemeral ‘job.’

For these modern dramas, there is a spirit that is the biggest character. Just like my Lit professor in college told me about Shakespeare’s plays, the character of England flavored all his plays. The Spirit of Christmas is the BIGGEST character in the Hallmark movies.

But while many of the characters in the movies undergo a transformation–often realizing that they should be grateful for their family/blessings/recently discovered monarchist family line–the spirit of Christmas will NOT change.

The goal is for Christmas to BE. It will BE the best Christmas ever. It will BE the Christmas that the children/husband/grandparent SHOULD have. Christmas is the perfect almost attainable state of being that we are all aspiring towards:

A tableau to place ourselves and our loved ones in.

Come in closer! Lean in! Smile! No, that’s not right, SMILE!!!

A science fiction TV series quite a while back made a big impression on me. I’ll admit it, I loved Babylon 5. I know sci-fi isn’t for everyone. But neither are hallmark movies.

In Bab5, the space station was grappling with two alien cultures that seemed the classic Good-Bad polarity. The one asked the characters: “Who are you?” and the other asked, “What do you want?”

When it was airing, I asked myself those questions in the mirror every day.

Spoiler alert: the “who are you?” aliens were creatures who demanded a sameness. They did not tolerate change, and therefore repressed growth.

The “what do you want?” aliens were willing to experiment and destroy sometimes.

I watched the show, and asked myself the questions; I wondered how perfect I was willing to be.

As it happened, I was not willing to be that kind of perfect anymore. I was ready to break out of the perfect image and grow into something new.

But we all know the lure. Hallmark knows the lure of one tiny day of choreographed perfection.

Just once

Just once to get it right

We can destroy it all the day after. Shucks, it will destroy itself anyway. But the one day will be for the scrapbook, when we can look back and tell ourselves who we are.

Oops-A millions mistakes

I remember in 5th grade, I was very aware when things were not fair. Was it possible that thing in my 5th grade class and school were particularly unfair?


But then I read a book where the main character was also in 5th grade–by Judy Blume or Beverly Cleary–and that girl kept saying my catch phrase “It’s not fair!”

And I thought, maybe this is something that 5th graders do.

My daughter is in 4th grade. Her phrase right now is “I”M SORRY!”

At first the phrase was very intense, followed with a stream of unstoppable words. “I’m sorry what did I do wrong did I make a mistake I knew I made a mistake what did I do wrong I’m sorry”


Apparently she had tasted the fruit of the tree of shame and guilt. This is not a flavor I want for my daughter.

“Veronica, it’s okay to make mistakes. I make a million mistakes a day.”

She narrowed her eyes at me. “How is that possible? There is not enough time in the day to make a million mistakes.”

My girl has a literal math mind.

“Oh, you have no idea how good I am at making mistakes.”

But the thing is, I don’t want to stay in mistakes. I want to recognize them and correct them. I want to move past them as quickly as possible. That’s what I want for Veronica.

Just the year before she could do that. Something changed.

“Bunny, what you are doing is not really a mistake. It’s more of an oops. It’s okay. You don’t have to feel so bad about it. Everyone does oops when they are doing something new or something hard. It’s okay.”

So now, I get to tell her that she is doing something wrong when she howls I”MSORRYI”MSORRY! I wish I had a magic wand, but I don’t. So I have to tell her that she is wrong to think she’s wrong.

She still howls I’m sorry, but the recovery period is shorter. Which is a change in the right direction.

Brene Brown says that the lifetime shame scars set in in grade schools. That creativity is shamed for most people at this age. I can want for her what I would want for myself:

The ability to shake off the imposed standards and have a friendly internalized standard for evaluating my efforts.

Grade school and adult life as well can feel very powerless if we let other people have the power of telling us if we are ok.