by Camerin Courtney
When my sister, Shelley, and I were in grade school, we surprised our parents one Christmas morning with a special concert. Dressed in our matching pink flannel nightgowns, Shelley played the piano while I sang the Christmas carols written on the fancy program we'd created.
Though we were surely bleary-eyed and a bit out of tune, we were so proud of ourselves for surprising our parents with this "exclusive engagement" and for adding our own flourish to our Christmas celebration. Our parents were so pleased, we made the concert a tradition for many years following (probably until we became teenagers and this suddenly wasn't so "cool").
Years later, when I was preparing to move to my current home in the Chicagoland area the day after Christmas, I accidentally created my next holiday tradition. My family, bless them, spent Christmas Eve driving a U-Haul full of the belongings still stashed in my parents' attic to my apartment two states away.
Not wanting my family's holiday celebration to consist entirely of manual labor and driving, I purchased my first-ever live tree that year. I was excited at the thought of greeting my road-weary family with my little holiday haven. But when I got the tree home and began decorating it, I realized my paltry ornament collection only filled a few branches. So I headed to the mall.
Sorting through the santas and snowmen at one store, I finally stumbled upon the perfect thing: small pottery stars hanging from red and green ribbon. They were inexpensive, artsy, and, best of all, they reminded me of the star that guided the wise men to a tiny king in a manger 2,000 years ago. I also found some small gold angels, to round out the inhabitants of the dark sky that night, and headed home a happy ornament owner.
Those themes — stars and angels — have guided my decoration purchases over the years and have numbered among the personal traditions I've created. When the job that precipitated that Christmas-time move years ago provided me with a lot of free books and CDs over the years, I started picking ones I thought my parents and sister would enjoy, wrapping them in the Sunday comics, and giving them as "bonus" gifts on Christmas Eve (since we're a Christmas-morning-gift-unwrapping family). It's a great way to share my work perks — and more importantly, my love — with my favorite people. When I fly into town to be with my family each year for the holidays, it's fun to once again bring my own little tradition to our celebration (and one that's a little easier on the ears!). Similarly, my single friend Julie hosts an annual Christmas party at her house. It's become a treasured time for her family, including her three married siblings and their kids, as well as for her friends.
While Julie and I don't have the traditional things in our life that usually inspire new traditions — a spouse and kids — I think it's great that we've created a few just the same. Forging new traditions forces us to reflect on what this season's really about, why that's meaningful to us, and how we can keep that spiritual significance in focus. When we singles coast on our family's traditions, however meaningful they may be, we sometimes fail to dig deep and take ownership of this eternally significant holiday.
Adding a few traditions to our family's celebration also reminds us and them that we're still contributing members of the family, even if we may not have a house to invite everyone to and even though we may still occasionally sit at the "kids' table" for Christmas dinner. And during this time of year, which sometimes can be pretty lonely for us singles, a few meaningful traditions can help get us past our circumstances — be they great or gloomy — and back to that humble manger 2,000 years ago and the tiny boy-king born to save every single one of us.