While the term “new traditions” seems like an oxymoron, we arrived at a like-new style of celebrating our holidays. We kept very traditional for a long time: Christmas was taking our new baby to Pennsylvania to see his grandfather and aunt, then on the return to where we live in Florida, we visited the other set of grandparents. We had some cold, snowy Christmas season, traditional Italian Christmas Eve dinner, complete with a house full of hungry relatives and friends, and Christmas morning was magic. We spent Easter in Florida, going to last Mass on Saturday evening and coming home to dye eggs, wait for Valentino to fall asleep so we could hide them and build his basket, and we spent Sunday hunting eggs in the morning and making ham and potatoes for late lunch.
This all changed somewhat when my father in law died. We would not be going to Pennsylvania any longer in the winter. Christmas might be 78 degrees and humid. Valentino’s aunt flew from Pa to here, and with last-minute shopping and dinner out, we would be done. After a few days, we dropped her at the airport and went to my family’s in Orlando, just a couple hours up the road.
We realized that we could not recreate our old traditions–a houseful of family members all of whom live a 30-minute drive from the Matriarch/Patriarch. We were in Florida, a few hours from some relatives, and nearly 20 hours drive from the rest. What would Valentino’s traditions look like?
We knew that we shouldn’t try to manufacture traditions, but we wanted to maintain some things. My wife makes pizzelle cookies every year, and we still put on a feast of the 7 fishes, even if it’s just the three of us. I am happy to have lobster, shrimp, crab, mussels, scallops, trout, and salmon. Even if Valentino doesn’t eat it, he can grow to put it in his (hopefully fond) memories.
During our first lock-down Covid Christmas, we were fortunate to have kept our jobs and our pay, and we even saved a little because we weren’t spending money on gas and dining out. With a little extra, we decided we wanted to make Christmas for Valentino extra special. He did so well with remote learning, and he lost so much by not playing basketball as he had, by not running the playground with his friends, not goofing off in the cafeteria. So we braved our way into the store, one of our first trips out since the March lockdown except for biweekly grocery trips, and we spied the largest Christmas tree that Lowes had. Twelve feet of pre-lit decadent Christmas celebration.
We talked about it first. In January 2020, we had moved into a new house, completely unaware that we would be locked into it for quite a while in just a few months. One feature that sold us on the house was the vaulted ceiling in the entry room. Anyone who walks through the front door, without exception, stops on the landing, and looks up, rotating their neck clockwise to take in the majestic height of our ceiling. Would it really hold a 12-foot tree? Our measurement showed: yes. So back to Lowes, and we heaved the massive weight of the giant box onto a utility cart, through the checkout line, and into the car. Just a couple weeks later we would be surprised to find the tree on sale, and, taking the receipt back to the story, we would find the tree discounted another $150. Our luck seemed endless.
In addition to the biggest tree, which consequently did excite Valentino and invigorate his Christmas spirit, we decided to allow him to pick out one Christmas house, which would be an annual tradition, and we got “dripping” icicle lights to hang on the eaves. Our outside decorations and inside tree, along with lighted garland that adorned the stair railing and catwalk banister, have become traditions of the best wonderland we can recreate in the tropical Florida climate.
We have other traditions, some of which we hold from the past and others that we let happen organically.