A long time ago--after we'd been married a couple years but less than five--we hosted an international visitor for dinner during the holiday season. Although we'd spent the previous year abroad, we'd never before been stateside and on our own for the holidays, and I mentioned this to our visitor. "I'm going to miss not going home," I said, much to our visitor's astonishment. "You are here," he said. "Your husband is here," he said, pointing to Alpay. "And your cat, too," he said, pointing to our beloved Mau-Mau. "You are home."
I, of course, had meant my parents' home, but he had a point. Home is where you live. You don't "go home" for the holidays, unless you are in some transitional living arrangement, say college, for instance. But even then, as an adult, one has both the pleasure and an obligation, if only to oneself, to develop one's own traditions. In doing so, there's the opportunity to reprise favorite family traditions while creating new ones, resulting in a customized combination that suits the unique circumstances of your life.
What to eat, and when, when to open gifts, what days to celebrate and how, what rituals are meaningful to you--these are among the decisions to be made. It took several years to develop our traditions: a midnight meal of borscht and pierogies; a morning breakfast of homemade Scandinavian stolen; presents exchanged on New Year's day; a freshly-cut tree and yearly addition to the ornament collection my mother started for me in 1980. I keep a record of these ornaments by the year, and love the ritual of wrapping them in brightly-colored tissue paper once the season is over, the better to enjoy them anew the following year. "It's like unwrapping presents!" my friend Sabrina said today as we made our way through the enormous box of ornaments. Last year, saddened by the failing health of the elderly Mau-Mau, Alpay and I skipped the tree and did no pre-holiday entertaining. This year, our first without the Mau, we watched the kittens discover the joy of swatting the peach-colored bulbs we got the year we had our international visitor, when Mau-Mau himself was still a kitten. Traditions, I realized, help ease transitions. Traditions honor the past while celebrating the present, and in that way, they are a gift, indeed.