of Christmases Past
a Christmas Eve sermon, a few years back, in which I’d referenced
the traditional Christmas pomegranate that my younger daughter
and I share, Linnea said to me, “and what’s with that traditional
pomegranate we’re always eating. We only did it last year.”
No, no, I said. You know, we buy a pomegranate at Christmastime
and you and I cut it open and get juice everywhere and talk
about the cellular structure of the pith and membrane.
Yeah, she said. We did, once. And once does not a tradition
She was smiling as she said this. Which is how Linnea delivers
So what, I said. I love pomegranates. I buy one every year.
We can eat one every year. Or I can eat one all by myself
and remember that one, untraditional year that I spent eating
it with you.
Not one to suffer fools, Linnea didn’t say much in response.
Besides, I know she values our quirky traditions, the ones
that have lasted more than one year: baking such a surplus
of cookies we are mandated to share with relative strangers,
leaving the state to cut down a Christmas tree and lunching
at Stewarts (Stewarts, for lunch?) along the way, eating latkes
while we decorate the tree because that’s what I did when
I shared my first Hanumas with the roommate in New York many
But there are those experiences that, even if they can’t be
repeated, year after year, have the emotional significance—or
the humor—of tradition.
For example, the very first Thanksgiving I spent away from
my family, I was living in Kurt Cobain’s hometown of Aberdeen,
Wash. It was not a promising place to live. My boyfriend and
I were there for reasons that had everything to do with young
love and wanderlust and nothing whatsoever to do with reason.
We were broke. That’s putting it mildly.
I was selling menswear during the Christmas shopping season
and my boyfriend was moving furniture for Selmer Schlacht,
who owned the only furniture store in town. Selmer, in a fit
of uncharacteristic generosity, gave us a turkey for Thanksgiving.
And since the rest of your typical Thanksgiving spread consists
of root vegetables and cranberries, I figured I could afford
to fix us a feast.
And I did: candied yams and mashed potatoes and chestnut dressing
and cranberry sauce and rutabaga puff and creamed onions and
homemade bread and pumpkin and pecan pies. Remember, there
were just the two of us.
And we didn’t have a table. Normally we ate off the reinforced
cardboard trunk that I’d used throughout my four years of
college. We’d sit on the floor, light some candles and eat
dinner. Very romantic, of course.
But I’d made a feast. A feast required the formality of a
table and chairs and we had neither. Nevertheless, undeterred,
we put on our best Salvation Army duds—for him, a purple and
red bowling shirt, for me an embroidered schmatta that I thought
made me look like a young Joni Mitchell.
And then, for a banqueting table, we unscrewed the hinges
and took down the door to the bedroom. We laid one end on
the trunk and the other end on the only chair we had. I piled
all the festive trimmings of the feast on the door, taking
care not to spill too much. And we tucked in.
It was a memorable Thanksgiving. If we missed our families—his
in Denver, mine in New York—we didn’t talk about it. We were
young adventurers, as grateful as the Pilgrims on their first
feast and it all seemed like such rightness to be feasting
on our bedroom door.
Needless to say, we talked about that feast for years. And
one year, we talked about doing it again. Only by then we
were married. We were living near family, and how could we
explain that I was going to serve our dinner on a door? Besides,
we also had a child. And a high chair. Somehow, taking down
the door seemed superfluous. And maybe just a little stupid.
On the other hand, wouldn’t it have made a great tradition?
Because some things, even when only done once, are worth remembering
over and over again, with the same purposefulness of an annual