I was at my parent's house on Christmas Eve and things went pretty much as they do every year. We eat dinner, more of an informal buffet than a sit-down event. Everyone catches up on the year and talks about the one upcoming. We all want to get together more next year, but that never really happens. Life is busy and everyone has their own responsibilities. At least we have this one night per year as a family.
After dinner, we pass around the "wish box." It is a small, wrapped package with a fancy bow on it. Each year we take turns passing the box around the room and making a wish for the next year. Since we have done this so many times, each person generally remembers what the others wished for last year. I generally wish that my sister finds a nice boyfriend but I finally gave up on that one this year. My niece wished for a man for herself last year...and he was at the dinner with her this Christmas!
Some wishes come true, others might take longer. My mom has been wishing for the troops to come home from Iraq and Afghanistan for more years than I can remember. My dad has also been wishing for just one more year for himself to live, for as long as I can remember. As time marches on, I realize that one year his wish will not come true.
The wish box is nice because it gives you some insight into what your loved ones are really thinking...what worries them, what makes them happy. I rarely see my nieces so the wish box gives me a glimpse into what is going on in their lives. I honestly think that fifty years from now, when we are probably off in different parts of the country with our own grand kids, that there will be several wish boxes with the same mission...keeping their branch of the family close.
Another tradition we always do is listen to the Hallmark ornament that my grandmother recorded for me as a little boy. She could have talked for up to a minute on the recording but all she would say is "Merry Christmas Kevin. I love you. Nanny." It takes all of five seconds to play but that is a much anticipated and tear filled five seconds. She passed away in 2001 and for 10 years that recording has kept her with us at Christmas.
This past Christmas Eve, my mom gave my children a Hallmark book where she read them The Night Before Christmas. Her voice reads the words as my kids flip the pages. My mom does not read very well, at least not out loud, so I am glad she did not try to make it perfect. She recorded it in her own voice, the way she reads, mistakes and all. It makes me wonder if she is secretly wishing for one more Christmas for herself since she gave the gift of her voice, as my grandmother died before she died?
Families change in size and shape. They grow and shrink over the years. Some years are happy with the birth of new babies. Some years are sad with the loss of loved ones. Some years may have a little of both. With all of those ups and downs, it is nice to know that we can evoke our memories and traditions to comfort us and keep us going.
Genealogy buffs spend a lot of time thinking about whether we look like our ancestors or not...do we have grandma's nose or great-grandpa's ears? Not very often do we think about the actions or practices that we have inherited from those who came before us. In my case, I do not know when the wish box started but it will not end on my watch. A version of it will pass on to my children and grandchildren if I am around to keep it going, just as will the bags under my eyes and the size of my ears. Take a minute and think about it. What traditions were passed down to you, that you have or will pass on to your kids?