This holiday season has had me pondering traditions, and the challenges of keeping them.
In early December I went to a Christmas Tea at the Edwards Place
(http://www.springfieldart.org/), which had The Tea Ladies
(http://thetealadiesinc.com/index.html) present a program on Victorian Christmas customs. It was a lovely program, and I was fascinated to learn how long it took to make a plum pudding
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas_pudding), since plum pudding was part of my mother's family traditions.
The program came to mind again when a friend and I were talking about the mad pace of the holiday season, and the demands of family gatherings. And it dawned on me that along with the commercialism of the season, and the increased demands to be "festive" at various gatherings (family, friends, or work), that some of the stress might come from the fact that many of the traditions we carry on were born at a time when many families had a servant or two to help. Along with the fact that the expectations of presents were usually much simpler.
But I would not be one to argue for getting rid of traditions. They are often our tie to our past, and the family that has gone before.
A fact that was truly brought home to me this holiday.
Once my Christmas was more or less likely many others' - with the joys of decorating a tree, and the gathering of presents for special people, and the bustle of my parents in the kitchen preparing for the family gathering.
And always there was the plum pudding and brandied hard sauce, the putting up of the new Scotch heather, and the burning of the bayberry candle; both the Scotch heather and the bayberry candle were for "health, wealth, and happiness."
These givens continued even after it came down to just Mother and I, which we still enjoyed in the glow of tree lights.
Now it is down to myself and two young hounds. The tree, the lights, and even the Scotch heather are gone, and while I had hopes of plum pudding it too was impossible when the grocery stopped carrying it.
So it was down to the bayberry candle, which was to be burnt to the socket between Christmas and New Year.
And even this I debated.
The last couple of years I had to battle to keep the candle burning, which really bemused me. The candles had been made by a known company, and yet, it turned out, that the bayberry wax was around a core of inferior wax. Plus, with the pups at hand, the only safe place to burn the candle for a long space of time was the bathtub.
Somehow, though, I could not give up that one tradition - one that my mother had carried on after it had been handed down to her by her father.
So I rummaged in the closet, and found that I only had a few candles left, by a different company, and after picking one I settled it in the bathtub. I will admit that doing so brought me a little amusement, and an acknowledgement of the lengths I actually would go to continue a tradition.
The candle burnt true, and before the clock struck midnight on New Year's Eve it was to the socket.
On a related theme of Christmas traditions, and the keeping of them, I have to mention a little book I found.
Not too long before Christmas I felt the need to stop in at the Widow at Windsor antique shop, though I usually only look at their displays. However, the shop is always fascinated, and I had a moment, so I gave into the impulse. And it wasn't until I was leaving that I found what I had come to get - a tiny book entitled The Message of the Bells: Or What Happened To Us on Christmas, by Hendrik Willem Van Loon.
The illustrations alone were worth the price, but I was also intrigued by the story. I was vaguely familiar with Hendrik Van Loon, since my father left me a copy of his The Story of Mankind, but I knew little else of him. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hendrik_Willem_van_Loon
The story of the little book centered around a Christmas that he and his wife were sharing with their children and grandchildren.
Van Loon's youngest son, along with his nephews, had arranged a surprise for Henrik and his wife - the traditional arrival of the Three Wise Men. They did this to let Hendrik and his wife have tiny taste of home. A home in the Netherlands being torn by WW II.
As they prepared to light the outdoor Christmas tree the grandchildren wanted to know more about their grandparents' homes, and Christmases.
Henrik told them a little, but added that even the bells of Veere were silent now.
It was then that all of them heard bells, but not to them American bells; to Henrik Van Loon and his wife they heard the Bells of Veere ringing clear - across oceans and maybe time. And whether his children and grandchildren heard the same bells it was such a strange occurrence that they created this beautiful little book about it.
I am a Springfield, IL based storyteller with a fascination for how folklore travels, and for history.