December 18, 2014

It Wouldn't Be Christmas Without The Donkey On The Roof

Family traditions counter alienation and confusion. They help us define who we are; they provide something steady, reliable and safe in a confusing world.
-Susan Lieberman 

I absolutely agree with the quote above by Susan Lieberman. As a matter of fact my first thought in the midst of the horror of 9-11 was "I need to make soup." I desperately needed to do something familiar - something so mundane that it let me feel things were going to be OK. Besides that, as a mother of 6, I also desperately needed for my kids to come home to something that made sense to them. It was all about taking comfort in the tradition of having dinner together as a family. It was predictable. Stable. The world may be going to pieces around us but something was still within our control.

The same is true of holiday traditions. There are as many and varied holiday traditions as there are families and even individuals who celebrate them. My husband David and his parents always spent their Christmases with family in Toronto Canada so decorating their house in Buchanan Michigan seemed senseless. Once he grew up and left home while single, Christmas decorating meant dragging out his Father Christmas (see Gandalf) decoration. When we married and I made a big fuss over a Christmas tree, it seemed "silly" to him I think. 

My Russian son in law is more used to New Years being the BIG celebration for his family. Christmas is something he's doing for my daughter and his daughter but he's being a good sport about it...this year. :)

My family celebrates Faux Christmas. (you'll have to click on the link to get the gist of that since it would take more time to explain it than I want to spend on it in this post given I've exhausted it in another.)

Not matter what else we do each year to celebrate, for me - It wouldn't be Christmas without the donkey on the roof. Now that may bring up some strange visuals if your mind works like mine, but I'm pretty sure that this is one tradition that we can call ours!

I LOVE my Willow Tree Nativity set. It's my favorite part of decorating for Christmas. I started with just the Holy Couple and then collected the new pieces as they became available for years. I have the creche, shepherds, trees, angels, goats, various livestock, and a lovely stand of stars at varying heights. Finally - I said enough is enough already. Pretty soon they'll be selling the entire heavenly hosts and every star in the night sky!

One year after the nativity was set up and waxing beautiful, I happened by it to find something amiss. The donkey, who usually finds his place in front of the creche had made his way up to the roof somehow. I double checked him to make sure and - no wings! So, I took him down and placed him back in his traditional setting. The next day as I again passed by, not only had the donkey reclaimed the roof, but he had been joined by several sheep!
What kind of livestock uprising was this? 

I questioned all the usual suspects and none would admit to moving the critters so the sleuthing was on. It became a cat and mouse or should I say a donkey and sheep game of trying to catch the culprit in the act. I'd replace that animals and try my best to keep an eye out for misadventure but without so much as a clue the next time I went past the creche the roof was again littered with farm animals.

I can't remember if I finally caught him or if my son Greg at last fessed up but what started as a joke has become a long standing tradition. I never see it happen but without fail - year after year the donkey lands on the roof of the creche - sometimes alone and sometimes with wooly friends. It's become an endearing part of the holiday season for me.

It doesn't matter what your traditions are. They can be deeply spiritual or just plain silly. I like to incorporate a bit of each. The important thing is that traditions matter. They are the simple things that create long lasting memories. It's what people talk about from generation to generation and in that way connects us all to who we are, and what we are a part of. They let us predict our future by relying on the things that matter from the past. They give us something to look forward to and act as an anchor when the seas become restless.

If you don't have traditions of your own I'd encourage you to start some. If you do have some I invite you to reflect on them to see what a special part of your life they are. Journal them. Leave traces of them for future generations to find. It could be as simple as a special recipe for a certain holiday dinner or the sharing of a story each year. Take the time to make your occasions memorable and then cherish those memories. There is so little of life that has lasting meaning, but our traditions can create a lasting legacy that binds us through the generations.

This year as I was setting up the nativity, I automatically put the donkey on the roof of the creche. It was just a reflex! I'll haul him down before my son gets here however because JUST FOR ONCE I want to catch him in the act! 

What's your favorite nontraditional tradition?

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