My childhood was sufficiently messed up to imbue every holiday with the subtle taste of lead. My dad and his family tried to make it up to me, but it was always a day late. When you’re a kid, arriving at a celebration isn’t the same as waking up to one. So by my 20s I’d successfully abandoned tradition unless it was reconstructed and embraced in an ironic, well-pickled rock & roll sort of way.
When my son and I became a family, a romanticized notion of building meaning around our own celebrations was also born. Then when our lives became so very very abnormal, desperation drove me to carve out whatever normalcy I could. As Gabriel aged and his retreat into autism became more pronounced, it was clear that anything going on around the holidays was about me, not him. He was completely disinterested in the hiding of things or visitations from magical creatures, and cared only about whether chocolate or jelly beans would find their way into his sticky fingers. I lost the energy for it.
I came to rely upon our local extended family for celebrations: five generations, 20+ of all ages would come together around the table. It was our last link to anything resembling tradition. When the family imploded those just stopped and that thread unravelled. It was just Gabriel and me. My sister had joined us occasionally, but then she had a family of her own to construct new traditions around. When my partner came along he wasn’t enamoured with the notion of family tradition so there wasn’t any impetus to build any. We’re able to enjoy celebratory meals with his parents, who live close by which is nice, but our home is otherwise devoid of anything resembling tradition.
So this week I’ve watched happy families post on Facebook about colouring eggs, visits with the easter bunny, and easter egg hunts. Gabriel couldn’t care less about any of it, something I used to celebrate: “Think of the money you’re saving,” “No shopping pressure,” and “No expectations to fall short of.” Yet that’s not entirely true because he’s madly driven to make lists, mostly surrounding desired items, which isn’t even relegated to holidays. He’s an equal opportunity, year ‘round consumer. So we always have a tree in December because he likes to decorate it, and that’s where the presents go. That’s what tradition looks like here.
Maybe we’re destined to become one of those families that blows it all off and just leaves town. Except that’s expensive. And so many other people have the same idea that the borderline misanthrope in me would run screaming from the crowds, lock the doors, and hide under a quilt at home. Looking at other peoples’ happy smiles and celebrations on Facebook. Does that make me a masochist? Or maybe I’m searching for inspiration, for meaning to latch onto in an attempt to reconstruct some sort of notion of tradition for our family? But forcing the issue seems disingenuous. And it feels like a lot of work.
So is it just us? Or has tradition become a thing of the past for others too? (You know, the ones whose feeds go quiet and/or inappropriate around holidays.) Does anyone really care any more? Or are they all faking it?