Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. My feet take me across the new layer of snow blanketing the path from the house to the birdfeeders. It’s my first path making of the season. The night before freezing rain had added to a fresh layer of snowfall, causing the icy layer from which comes the rhythmic crunching as onward I trudge. I don’t mind this trek. It’s bitterly cold and my hands, while snug in gloves, are quickly reminding me of the chill. I gaze out across the field and wonder about all the life going on in the woods. I know there’s activity, even if I can’t see it or hear it. As I near one of the feeders, a cardinal sings me his approval and a chickadee chirps morning greetings. These gleanings from mornings are often missed in our hurry to get on with our day.

Christmas is right around the corner and this time out with my feathered friends gives me time to think about my activities the last several weeks as they relate to Christmas. I reflect on the traditions we have celebrated in the past with our family and friends. Christmas this year, brings the absence of loved ones. Our children will not be home for the holidays, but we will travel to them. A few – far too many – friends have passed on this year. These absences make for transition and new traditions.

Lights are hung. Children have belatedly realized they need to make amends and be good the rest of the year. Santa’s bells and holiday greetings fill the air. Nutcracker performances astound visitors with the traditional tree unfurled center stage.

Back inside my home, my kitchen counter is blessedly laden with sugar, flavorings, food colorings, chocolate and other ingredients for making both traditional family foods and trying some new ones. I joined a friend last week and we baked through the day. She had some favorites which we joined with my own. Christmas traditions and food offer opportunities to gather together with strangers, friends, and family.

As I fill the bird feeders, I think about new traditions this year as part of my family’s transitioning process. Humanity tends to fear “letting go”. What will fill that space? Emptiness is the most horrible feeling. Yet, letting go allows for new traditions to fill that space. After all, we have the season of Christmas because of traditions contributed by pagans, Romans, and yes, even King Henry VIII. I think we can relate on some level to the feast where the latter threw sugarplums at his guests.

  • Christmas festivities were heralded in with the celebration of my friend’s birthday. For the second time, I made a coconut cake in honor of her childhood traditions.
  • We gathered last week with new friends and old for a holiday celebration. It was a mix of “end of semester yahoos!” and yuletide greetings. Each guest brought a dish to share. Now in its third year, I love that it is becoming a new tradition.
  • One of my additions to the above food gathering was my homemade eggnog. My friend says it has a reputation and is also now a tradition.
  • I am baking less this year. Partly because my work is needing increased attention, but also because without the kids home, I don’t need to bake from October to January. I am hoping this will not be a new tradition.
  • This coming weekend we will join my son and his family for a “7 Fishes Dinner”. I am looking forward to this with great anticipation. I have never been to one, and I think there will be fodder for an upcoming column! We have been asked to bring Cantrell’s Seafood smoked salmon, so I’m making a greens salad with the addition of the salmon and topped with lemon dill dressing just before serving. I anticipate this becoming an annual feast!
  • We will have friends to join in dinner on Christmas Eve. This may be the makings of the revival of former days when we would have a Christmas Eve open house. The menu would include warm German potato salad, pork roast, and Tourtiere.

Traditions don’t have to be fancy or elaborate to make our holiday celebrations memorable. I often find they arrive as if by magic. Whichever traditions are part of our days through this season of giving and receiving, I wish us all peace, joy, and happiness. May our memories one day feel like old friends.