Every family has its own traditions for the holidays, and outsiders might find them strange. “We’ve knitted the annual sweater for the radiator — time for cranberries and Yahtzee! You get out the board and I’ll start smearing the table.”
But they’re always the old traditions. For example: We always put the little Christmas village in the same place every year. The reindeer candle goes on the table in the sun porch, where it will never be lit. In fact, that’s another tradition: not lighting Christmas candles. They’re like decorative soap. In fact, for all we know, they might be decorative soap, with a wick. (A wick made out of old decorative towels.)
Why not invent a new tradition this year? That might seem a bit forced, and you can’t tell if it’s a tradition until next year. But it’s still worth a try.
It’s easier to start small, and find something that has a Meaningful Story.
Which brings me to the tale of the Mismatched Salt and Pepper Shakers. At some holiday dinners we have guests, and I’m waiting for them to say: “I couldn’t help but notice that everything on this table matches, except for the salt and pepper shakers. Is there a reason for that, preferably in the form of a heartwarming tale whose simple truth reveals the essence of the season?”
I would smile, dip my chin, give my wife’s hand a squeeze, and say, “Why, yes, there is.
“See, everything on this table does belong together. The dishes, the butter plate, the gravy boat — they’re all the same pattern. It’s the good china, the stuff that comes out a couple times a year when the whole family is together.
“In a way, a family is like a china set — they share the same pattern, they’re valuable, it’s sad when a piece gets broken, and you’re always a bit nervous when you put them in the dishwasher, even if you use the mild setting.
“Anyway! The salt shaker, you’ll notice, doesn’t match. But it sits right next to the pepper, because they’re part of a team on this day. The unusual shaker reminds us that the best gatherings are the ones that have someone who’s different, who’s a guest, sharing our bounty. And salt is a vital nutrient, as well.”
Guest: “I’m on a low-sodium diet. Can I be the pepper?”
Me: “Well, for the story to work, you have to be the different shaker.”
Guest: “That’s like a dollar-store shaker.”
Me: “Would you like some potatoes?”
Now that the guest has been distracted with a serving of starch, here’s the actual back story: I broke the salt shaker last year. I found a replacement on the internet, but it was $65. Apparently it was the only one left in the world. There were no pepper shakers in the pattern left. Anywhere. On the planet.
I’m not about to spend $65 on any kind of shaker, so I’m sticking to the parable of the mismatched shaker as a new tradition. Unless, of course, someone is interested in buying the pepper shaker. It’s yours for $70. And I’ll throw in free shipping. Because ’tis the season.
Now for the parable of the green light.
Our tree is covered with crisscrossed strands of dazzling white light, each bulb all the same, except the one with the salt in it. No, sorry, that was the other story. They’re all white, but as I said to Daughter the other night:
“Can you see the green one?”
“It’s a heartwarming story.’
“Can you just tell it to me?”
“Find the green light. See, all the lights in the other strands are the same. All white, all green, all red. A uniform sameness without diversity.”
“What about multicolor?”
“Uhh — they’re still the same. They’re all multicolor! Anyway, I put in one green bulb, so if someone sees it, they realize that if you look closer you just might find something different. In our modern holiday rush, we don’t take the time to look for the green bulbs. We need to slow down and look for what’s precious and special.”
I smiled, full of fatherly wisdom. “Sometimes the smallest light in the darkest of nights.” ...
“No, seriously why is there a green bulb?”
“It’s a tradition.” (Sulking now.)
The truth behind that heartwarming story: While I was dragging out the lights, one of them got caught on something and broke. I took a green one from a dead strand. I can’t help but notice it now. Bugs the heck out of me.
Try it yourself. Take a mistake and turn it into a Heartwarming Tradition. Unless it’s the one where you light the fireplace and forget to open the flue. Hard to get the true meaning of Christmas out of that one, unless you give all your smoky clothes to charity.
You know: Peace on Earth, Men towards Goodwill.