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For many this is “the most wonderful time of the year.” From finding Halloween costumes and candy in October through New Year’s Day feels like a long, accelerating whirlwind of holiday traditions reaching across many faiths and cultures. While some of us like to pretend we are affronted by Halloween candy filling the entrances to our grocery stores before October is even underway, it is hard not to be seized by the festive mood that starts brewing with the year’s first sighting of candy corn.
I thoroughly enjoy Halloween parades and roaming the neighborhood with my trick-or-treating kids. We seem to transition straight from that to Thanksgiving with both sides of our family. Then in December we have one of my favorite household traditions: our family’s “Secret Santa.” Our kids draw names (which usually takes a few tries) then spend the month doing small things for each other and giving little gifts. Things like making a bed for someone, or hiding a small candy in their lunchbox (or shoe…in my house I seem to be alone in thinking that a shoe is not a great place for sweets), or just leaving a cheery note somewhere for them to find.
It is not perfect — they are still siblings, ready to squabble at the drop of a hat. But what I like about it is that not only does it help build the growing excitement of the season, but it also makes the season itself worth enjoying and provides opportunities for them to be kind to each other. I enjoy getting this tradition rolling by stopping at the store to get small things for them to give to each other, but I enjoy it the most when one kid pulls me aside to whisper an idea they need help with.
Our other traditions probably resemble those of many families that grew up celebrating Christmas. Dinners with friends, Christmas day with the family (in our pajamas), and we cap the year by hosting a New Year’s Eve get-together with a group of friends that we have been getting together with since college.
Because of the pandemic, we had to forego many of these traditions last year. We had Christmas Eve gift exchanges with friends standing on front porches. We took what seemed like a significant risk in having my mom and sister over for dinner. We rang in 2021 over Zoom on multiple devices scattered around the house, complete with a breakout room for the kids.
This year, thanks to the vaccine, we have been able to return to some of these traditions and as a result the holiday spirit has been especially strong in our house. However, a steady headwind of those refusing the vaccine and the spreading of the delta and omicron variants have quelled some of the progress we were making ensuring that we are not returning to “normal” this year.
But that’s not what I wanted to write about today.
What I wanted to write about today was what I consider the crown jewel of the holiday season: December 26th. Today truly is my favorite day of the year.
From mid-October up through yesterday we are working at a frenetic pace to decorate, carve, cook, shop, and celebrate, there are 5ks to run, tournaments to prepare for and watch, classroom parties and school concerts to attend, presents to hide, and then the wrapping and the wrapping and the wrapping. Then yesterday the big day came and for a few hours it looked like a bomb filled with wrapping paper and toys had gone off in the family room covering every available surface in a riot or color and noise.
But today? Today is the 26th.
No one woke up early. The floor is visible again. Attendance at breakfast was down substantially from yesterday. A fire crackles lazily in the grate. Our kids leisurely explore the presents they received without the pressure to move on to the next one. Lunch is leftovers. Dinner too. With any luck we have plenty of batteries on hand and not a single thing on the calendar.
A large part of what makes today great is probably that it comes on the heels of such a prolonged flurry of activity, the pressure to get everything done has passed, and it makes the calm seem deeper by contrast.
Whatever your traditions and whenever you celebrate them, I hope that you have a day in the year like this to enjoy with your loved ones, and that you have a great one of those days this year.
Will Wood is a small business owner, veteran, and half-decent runner. He lives, works, and writes in West Chester.
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