"Tradition is a guide and not a jailer." W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965), English playwright, "The Summing Up."
When I realized my column would print on Christmas day, I questioned who might read the paper on this special morning. But the more I thought about it, I decided that everybody would. We’re home, relaxing with family and, when the mayhem of present opening is finished while we’re waiting for the big meal to cook or the first football game to begin, we’re going to read the paper! So, welcome.
Today is the time to talk about holiday traditions — not necessarily tied to decorating our spaces, but living in them. Traditions and holidays just go together, and while we are often bored with our spaces and décor, we very seldom tire of the traditions that occur in them. We look forward to doing the same thing — and whether they’re good or bad, we remember them.
My favorite Las Vegas tradition is the annual mango bread marathon that my friend and I star in every year. She began making the bread when her children started school (the oldest is now a freshman in college). She gave it to teachers, other moms and her friends. Word spread about the wonderful mango bread and people starting asking for it early in the year. We’ve discovered over the years that people didn’t want the recipe, they wanted the bread.
When I moved here, she recruited me to help, and now, 12 Christmases later, we take two days every December and make more than 100 loaves of this delicious bread. We make really big messes and have a wonderful time doing it. It just wouldn’t seem like Christmas without those 40 or 50 pounds of mango, and the wonderful smells all over the kitchen.
The perennially dry turkey, the fruitcake that nobody eats, the Charlie Brown Christmas trees, the Christmas tie, new pajamas, our favorite food — while we’re experiencing these seemingly mundane things, they may not have much meaning to us at the time, but we always remember.
And think about this: When folks talk about homes they have lived in or if they are looking at a new home, one of the things I have heard many times is: "I could put the Christmas tree right over there" or "We would always put the tree in front of the window." Decorating for the holidays always involves tradition and our homes.
Over the years, I have asked friends and colleagues for some of their favorite holiday traditions. I think you will enjoy their responses, and however you celebrate the holidays, your traditions will endear your spaces even more.
Here are just a few of my favorites:
"My favorite tradition is to get out my Christmas tableware the day after Thanksgiving. I put away the everyday stuff and display the holiday china on my baker’s rack. I use it every day for every meal until New Year’s Day, when I put it away until the next time. Over time, by risking my life at day-after-Christmas sales, I’ve collected many pieces of china, glassware and flatware and I love using it."
As a child, "Christmas Eve, without fail, we would eat an informal family dinner, often with a few very close family friends. Dinner was followed by candlelight services at the First Presbyterian Church and then home to open one present, all the while nibbling on cookies and cocoa. New pajamas (and often robes and slippers) were then provided by my mother before we were sent off to bed, there to dream of the glories of Christmas morning."
"As an Italian family, Christmas Eve is all about the food — but especially on this night it’s all about fish. You have to serve seven varieties of fish. Don’t ask why, I don’t remember the reason. We start with shrimp cocktail; move on to linguini and clam sauce and continue with lobster, squid, scallops and whatever the store had that looked good. One year we only had six so we opened a can of tuna, even though no one ate it. I love Christmas Eve. That day all the memories of my grandparents and past years come flowing back."
"At our house, the favorite tradition is the merry mayhem provided by my brother-in-law. At some point during the gift exchange, he will bring out a cache of spring- or air-powered weaponry with rubber or foam projectiles. Chaos ensues. I know Jesus would be proud. Peace on earth, but not at my house."
"For Chanukah, my daughter-in-law and I make latkes for the entire family. It is the traditional food for Chanukah. It’s a labor of love, as we peel numerous potatoes, onions and garlic. She updated me by buying a Cusinart so I could stop using the grating board — a big step in saving time! We then add the rest of the ingredients and begin making latkes on the stove and griddle. We have a large dinner and all the children and grandchildren join in around the Chanukah decorations, after dinner, as we open one gift each."
"When I was growing up, on Christmas morning the first one to wake up had to wake up the rest of the family and we had to get dressed, brush our teeth and hair, make our beds and then when everyone was ready we would go together to the Christmas tree to see what Santa had brought. Looking back now, I think my mom wanted our Christmas pictures to look good! Her story was that we could spend the whole day playing, our work was done. I’m not buying it!"
"We collect menorahs from all over the world — some are splendid and some are plain, but all are unique. We love lighting them all each night and the old electric menorah from grandma and grandpop goes in the window. Hanukkah is also a really great holiday because it involves lots of chocolate. Actually the symbols of light and fighting for freedom provide a beautiful time of reflection and thanking God for our blessings."
So, whatever you do today, or whatever you have done in the past, remember that you’re building traditions and memories, and making your home even more special.
Carolyn Muse Grant is a founder and past president of the Architectural & Decorative Arts Society, as well as an interior design consultant/stylist specializing in home staging. Her Inside Spaces column appears weekly in the Home section of the Review-Journal. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.