The traditional Fraser Fir Christmas tree has been decorated and in its place in front of the bay window overlooking a snowy landscape and the lake beyond for a couple of weeks now. Colored rope lights line the eaves and deck railing of our log cabin in Maine. Christmas cards from friends and family are lovingly taped to the stair railing …I like the photo cards best of all. Dozens and dozens of Christmas cookies have been made, and trays and plates of them have been delivered to neighbors and students at the university. Homemade tamales have been assembled and are ready to be steamed for Christmas Eve dinner after Mass as has been our practice for probably 20 years or more. We first purchased several dozen from a Mexican friend at our church in California who made them from scratch and sold them to earn a bit of extra Christmas money. When we moved to Maine more than a decade ago, I taught myself to make them even though finding the ingredients locally was a bit of a challenge. Christmas dinner will be a standing prime rib roast, macaroni and cheese, and asparagus with a chocolate pecan pie for dessert. All homemade of course. Even as I write this, it seems like a lot of work when it will be just Don and I together this year. Still it IS Christmas!
Our son is currently living in Alaska and our daughter in the state of Washington. He just got back from a six-week deployment to the Aleutian Islands and will only have a couple of days off before he has to return to his regular assignment at the air station. Our daughter is assigned Christmas duty watch aboard her aircraft carrier. So there really is no way for us all to be together this Christmas. And really, since they began their careers as military officers 10 and 12 years ago, we have only been able to all be together for Christmas a couple of times, although we do make every effort to see them each (alone or together) at least once a year. I have a sister and brother who both live in Idaho, but they have family nearby to host or visit for the holiday. In fairness, weather and crowds can make traveling long distances even more difficult this time of year and who needs that added stress. Still it IS Christmas.
So we create new holiday traditions to go with those we have already established as our lives change and evolve over the years. Certainly we always hope that one or both of our kids will be able to come home (well, technically not home for them as they never lived in this house) for Christmas, but we also understand the uncertainty of their schedules and their own developing holiday traditions. So while we love the traditions we have created over the years, we have adapted them along the way to include new friends and neighbors in our Christmas celebrations. We attend parties with these new friends who have their roots in Maine so there is seafood instead of tamales and often as not fresh balsam Christmas wreaths hung on the doors. We invite new friends to share with us the traditions we brought to Maine. And sometimes the weather prevents us from traveling even across town, which could be the case this year as the weather report for Christmas day calling for 8-12 inches of fresh snow on Monday. So even if it turns out that it will be just Don and I together here on Monday, I will prepare the prime rib dinner with all the fixings, put Christmas carols on the stereo, and keep those who mean the most to us close in our hearts. Still it is Christmas!