Okay, for starters and for the record: this promise is a regift. This is an example of doing unto others what was done unto you. Specifically, this is what was done unto your dad and me by your wonderful grandparents. I’m trying to repay them forward, not take some kind of jab and get back at them. They’ve made the holidays easy for our family, and the best way I know to thank them for that is to commit to trying to follow their lead.
Of course, I’m making these promises well ahead of when I actually have to keep them. Right now, they’re easy to toss around. When the time comes, I imagine I’ll break them more than once and be tempted to throw them out the window. But as one of my wisest friends says, “If you aim at nothing, you’re sure to hit it.” So I’ll aim at getting this right and do my best to hit more than I miss.
Five promises to my daughters about Christmas
1. I promise not to get hung up on one certain day.
Thanksgiving and Christmas and Easter and all the rest are less dates on the calendar than they are ideas and celebrations. Really, the heart of all the holidays should be lived out year-round, so I promise not to act like we aren’t “truly” celebrating Christmas just because we don’t do it on December 25th or like we’re faking Easter if we don’t break out the ham and coconut cake on…well, whenever Easter falls according to that formula most people (including me) don’t know. Somewhere in the neighborhood of the actual holiday would be nice, but it doesn’t have to be an exact address.
2. I promise not to insist (or, even more maddeningly, insinuate) that our time together has to look a certain way or look the same way every year.
I’m a big fan of the way traditions hold families together and create a thread of shared memories that weaves itself through the years. But every old tradition was new once, so if it works out better some year for Thanksgiving to be pizza on the floor instead of turkey at the table, I’m willing to give it a go. Who knows? It could become our new favorite thing. Anyway, the “our” of all this is what I care about most.
3. I promise to remember that we are not the only people you’re trying to accommodate.
In years to come, as you widen your circle to include spouses and children and in-laws and friends who count as family, they’re going to factor into how and where you spend your holidays. I certainly can’t blame them for wanting to spend time with you; after all, that’s what I want, too.
4. I promise to support you as you establish your own traditions.
I hope you’ve loved some of the things we’ve “always done” at the holidays enough to keep doing them when you’re not living under our roof. But I’m also looking forward to watching you do things your own way.
I promise to cheer you on even if supporting your new traditions means I have to give up some of my old ones. (And even if your “own way” includes, say, getting an artificial Christmas tree after more than two decades of traipsing through tree lots in search of the perfect live one. It’s fine. I’m fine. I’ll send you some pine-scented essential oil as a house — or apartment — warming gift.)
5. I promise to take you when and where I can get you with joy and gratitude.
Many years ago, when your dad and I were first married, we went to pick out a Christmas tree at a tree farm that was only a few minutes away from where your grandparents lived. We had the option of driving right past their house on the way home, so I suggested we stop by, unannounced, and surprise them.
We pulled into their driveway to find the house glowing with light, and when we walked into the house, your grandmother met us wearing a Christmas apron around her waist and pure delight on her face. “I’m even baking cookies!” she exclaimed in satisfaction.
It wasn’t planned. It wasn’t a tradition. It wasn’t a holiday. It wasn’t the way we’d always done things. But it was a celebration and the best kind of unexpected gift.
It’s a gift I promise to do my best to give to you. I’ll think I’ll keep my apron handy, just in case.
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