Tag Archives: traditions

What’s in your cup?

Image credit: MorgueFile free photo: http://mrg.bz/T62g00
Image credit: MorgueFile free photo: http://mrg.bz/T62g00

I first heard about the Starbucks scandal on Sunday. A friend had posted a link to the (now) viral video in which an evangelist calls out Starbucks for making a corporate decision of inclusion during the holiday season.  Likely, you have already heard of the company’s “offensive” move to remove the images of snowmen, ornaments, and snowflakes from its holiday cup, leaving only the corporate logo boldly displayed on its traditional red cup.  As though it was a crime against humanity, the evangelist waged war against Starbucks and their product packaging decision.  Apparently, a plain red cup is the latest weapon in the “war on Christmas”,  worthy of its own hashtag, extensive news coverage, and lots of social media chatter. Even Donald Trump has joined in the rally suggesting a boycott against Starbucks and promising a return to “Merry Christmas” if he becomes president.

Really? A cup is a Christmas symbol? I was raised Catholic and though I more often identify myself as spiritual, I do attend a (liberal) Christian church and mark “Christian” on the little box on hospital forms.  Growing up, Christmas was a big deal in our house–big, really BIG–and my parents (especially my mom) worked to create special memories every year. Despite the pile of gifts under the tree each year, most of the memories I carry are those created from our annual traditions; traditions that kept the focus on the “reason for the season.”

For example, there was our annual ornament shopping. Each year, dressed in our Sunday best, my parents  took all 9  children (spaced 11 years apart) out for a special lunch and to the pool/patio store that transformed its sales floor into a holiday wonderland. Filled with Christmas trees heavy with ornaments, Christmas villages, strands of lights, and other décor, my parents had the patience of Job as they waited for this child or that to make their selection. Each of us carefully examined  the roughly 30 trees, wanting to be certain we’d seen all the choices before selecting that year’s ornament. And, when we returned home, each child looked for their special place on the tree to display their new, best-ever, ornament. The oldest, with his love of birds, always found someplace toward the top so the long tail feathers would drape “the way they’re supposed to.” When I was little, I liked someplace in the bottom 1/3 of the tree where I could remove and handle my ornament without much notice. Ask any one of us children, and the ornament shopping was never about the holiday decoration; it was about patience and memories of togetherness created and treasured, and a tradition each of us now shares with our own children.

Then there was the basket filled with small pieces of yellow yarn that sat next to the round advent wreath on our large kitchen table. In the center of the wreath sat a small wooden crib. Our mission was to help build the bed for the coming baby Jesus. With each act of kindness (neither requested nor boasted about), we could lay a “piece of hay” in the crib to welcome and comfort the new-born King. Like any house filled with 9 children, we had our scuffles, but from Thanksgiving until Christmas, there was a softness in our words and our hearts. This tradition helped us keep our eyes on the message of Christ; be kind, be not boastful, do unto others.

Perhaps the tradition that gets some of the greatest giggles when being retold are the years my father directed us in the re-enactment of the story of Christmas. Each of us played a character in the night that Mary and Joseph traveled from inn to inn, searching for a place to rest for the night. The 5 bedrooms upstairs served as the stage and bed sheets were the only costuming.  Always sensitive to the age differences, my parents insisted the older children still participate long after they outgrew the tradition, so each of us had several years’ worth of memories playing out the Christmas story. Each year, my mother would giggle with us while prompting us to remember why we celebrate Christmas and of the struggle and discrimination a young couple faced. My father was the perfect stage director as we rotated through the story several times so that each pair of children had the chance to play the coveted roles of Mary and Joseph. And, each year, by the time all was said and done, we were again focused on togetherness and the real “reason for the season.”

Sure, there were other traditions–the wind up Santa with the bell, the 6 course prime rib dinner, and the taking of turns when opening gifts so that everyone shared in everyone else’s joy. (Yes, gift opening often took several hours in our house.) Each tradition kept our eyes focused on what mattered, why we even celebrated Christmas, and what Jesus taught us about living.

I wonder what Jesus would think if he was sitting in a Starbucks today. Would HE be offended by a cup intended to symbolize inclusiveness? Then I think about the re-enactment of the Christmas story we acted out as children, the messages of struggle and discrimination his parents faced before and after his birth. What would Mary or Joseph think about the #Starbucksredcup? I can only imagine, and I imagine they wouldn’t be thrilled having their message minimized by a red cup.

My mother used to say it doesn’t matter if you are acting like a “good Christian” if your heart is somewhere else. Have we strayed so far from the teachings of Christ  we forgot HIS message? The traditions I grew up with taught me that Jesus came to teach us to be more accepting  and to love each other; he taught about inclusion.  As Christians we are taught that we are the body of Christ, his hands and feet to spread his message. Jesus’s message isn’t found on a cup, it’s found inside the cup.

What’s in your cup?

Linking the past to the present and the future.

Family traditions are the foundation for some of my favorite memories. I love traditions–especially holiday traditions. Traditions link the past to the present and the future.  Family customs that are shared, yet very personal, have the power to bond one generation to another and a new family together; they create a sense of belonging. I wrap myself in warmth when I reflect on the traditions of my childhood. It is the same warmth I feel when I look upon the smiles of anticipation on my children’s faces as they eagerly remind me of this or that tradition, especially at this time of year.

When I was growing up, my parents would cart all 9 of us out to shop for a new Christmas ornament every year. It was always followed by a special lunch out. As a child, I looked forward to that day almost as much as my birthday. As a parent, I have a great appreciation for the courage, patience and logistical planning that went into that day. It was a tradition my parents had begun with their first-born. Eventually, we each had our own box of ornaments. We were responsible for packing, unpacking, and most importantly, hanging our own ornaments every year. Over the years, there was the predictable jockeying that went on for the “best ornament locations” on the tree. That competition became just as much a part of the tradition as did selecting a new ornament. Somehow, the oldest always seemed to get his in the most prominent locations, closest to the top of the tree. He was a falconer and he collected “bird ornaments.” Every year, he claimed “the tails needed room to hang down.” And every year, my (self-proclaimed) “funniest” sister would threaten to cut the tails off his blasted birds. In true sibling fashion, she would squish her ornaments up around his, chaffing him just enough to irritate, but not enough to get in trouble.  Any one of us could look at the tree and name whose ornaments were whose. It was bitter-sweet to watch the once full tree slowly empty as my older siblings moved out and took their boxes with them.

Like my brothers and sisters, my box went with me when I left. It was strange decorating my first Christmas tree. I topped it with an angel I had found at Sears. I missed the star that had always topped the family tree. It seemed so bare, so small. It looked nothing like the trees I grew up with, but in that box was a lifetime of Christmases past. Each ornament held a snap shot of a year in my life. My first, a small doll in a red felt dress, was selected by my mother. Every year, I hold her in my hands just a little longer than all the rest before I place her on the tree. I cherish that connection to the past. I cherish that she is a part of my present. I never tire of the stories that are told and re-told each year as I decorate the tree with my husband and children. We share memories. We fill in gaps. We are bonded by tradition. The past and present are woven together by a tree that holds both.

Ornament shopping is one of the many traditions my family looks forward to each year. Our holiday excitement begins its ascent each Halloween–probably because it triggers the start of my husband’s laborious excavations through boxes of seasonal decorations in the attic. I have always thought of November 1 as the “official kick-off” to the holidays. I love November; the crunch of fallen leaves, the need for cozy sweaters, the weather-induced excuses to slow the pace, stay indoors and snuggle up together.

When my girls were small, I initiated a new tradition in our family–the “Thanksgiving Chain.”   Every November 1, colorful construction paper littered the table and construction began on our paper chain. Everyday leading up to Thanksgiving, each of us would take a strip of paper, write one thing they were grateful for and add a link to the chain.  It taught our kids about gratitude, and reminded me of all we had to be grateful for before the hustle and bustle of Christmas overwhelmed the household. Some years, in lieu of a chain, I would tape a large cornucopia made from construction paper to the wall that was slowly filled with paper fruits and vegetables with words like “family”, “my pets”, “friends” and even “chocolate” scribbled upon them.  Frequently, each girl would add more than 1, 2, or even 3 items to the chain or cornucopia. By Thanksgiving, we were visually reminded of the abundance in our lives.

I don’t remember how old my girls were the last time I hung that weathered cornucopia or built a  “Thanksgiving Chain.” Sadly, as children age, traditions are slowly packed away in a box of memories. Busy schedules and maturing minds edge out “child-like” traditions. As my children have grown, clandestine shopping trips to conceal Santa’s identity gave way to admonishments to stay out of mom’s closet. Homemade baked goods were replaced by “boxed chocolates” for friends and neighbors. And, the years of handmade crafts remain boxed in favor of mature, minimalist decorations.

Times change as children get older. Sometimes. Over the last several days, I have thought about the upcoming holidays. It has not escaped me that my husband and I are fast approaching a season of change. It won’t be long before our daughters take their boxes of ornaments and decorate their own trees. Will one want the “Rock n’ Roll Santa”, a gift from my mom, that plays every year? Will the other ask for the star that graces the top of the tree–the same star that topped the tree as I grew up and was passed on to me by my mother?  Will they hold their first ornament in their hands just a little longer than the rest before they place it on the tree? Hopefully, they will cherish their connection to the past.

This was the first year both girls didn’t dress up for Halloween. I was sad. A chapter had closed, and for just a bit last night, I mourned the Halloween’s past. In bed, my mind wandered to the approaching holiday season. Time has passed too quickly. Would this be our last year to ____________?  I felt gratitude for our traditions and the memories they have helped create. And then, I remembered our November tradition, our “Thanksgiving Chain,” tucked away long ago when the girls grew “too old.” Last night, I lay awake calling forth pictures of the little hands that had “trick-or-treated” together so many years. The same hands once helped create a paper chain and picked out Christmas ornaments. I thought of all I had to be grateful for over the years, and I decided, this year we would build a “Thanksgiving Chain” once again.

As soon as I mentioned the chain to the girls, they knew immediately what I was talking about. Enthusiastically, they jumped in. Construction paper littered the table, strips were cut, and sentiments of gratitude were scribbled across the strips. They remembered; the past came forward into the present and memories filled the room.  And, I felt grateful for this time, this opportunity to share a tradition and create a memory with my children once again.

Happy November, everyone!