I come from a tradition of no tradition. We were happiest when we gave up the forced merriment. Wishing “Merry Christmas” to others, we weren’t exactly nihilists. If buying local poinsettias counts, we decorate, making up for years with no Christmas tree by leaving the Evergleam tree up all year around in an odd niche between the kitchen and dining room, right along with Santiago Apostol on his horse and a gallery of Octavio Ocampo art.
Hanukkah gets celebrated by frying up something, most often buñuelos, on some night, seldom the right nights but still during Hanukkah season, laughing about the time someone completely forgot to light the menorah, setting out the gold-wrapped gelt, and gathering up gifts to be distributed between then and Day of the Kings.
One year I was invited to a Christmas posada by some friends who came from an even-by-Mexican-standards large family. I remarked how unnaturally well they all seemed to get along. My hostess quickly came back with “Inviting people who aren’t in the family keeps those in the family on their good behavior. And, of course, we have family that we’ve learned not to invite.”
The most memorable holidays were marked by doing something definitely not in the holiday rulebook:
Spending the day working at the hospital as a Candy Striper.
Christmas Eve in Florence at an over-the-top doll store, successfully scoring a simple black doll over my mother’s entreaties to opt for something fancier.
Christmas Eve at Alcatraz.
Christmas Day in Iowa City, dining at Denny’s after moving into an empty FIJI house. The bar review course would start the next day.
Aloft on a plane, fleeing flyover country for Lake Tahoe, Mazatlán, or Mexico City.
Christmas Eve and sushi in Buenos Aires, heralded by fireworks and a complete and total absence of traffic, not a taxi cab in sight. And walking from Recoleta to Palmero Viejo the next day.
Taking a recreational drive through the countryside, ending up at the mall, and buying an iPad.
Exploring the local cemetery on Christmas Day.
Cooking up spaghetti because Orizaba, the Old English Mastiff, ate the entire standing rib roast.
Attending or hosting a recalentado (a casual, unstructured celebration, usually on the 25th, of reheated leftovers, often supplemented by lasagna and a few freshly-prepared dishes).
None would be repeated, but each was memorable and enjoyable in its own way, just because those experiences were void of tradition-fueled expectations. Stepping away from tradition vastly decreases holiday tension and starring in Robert Earl Keene’s Merry Christmas from the Family.