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I’ve heard friends explain their method for deciding where to spend the holidays as a weighing up of traditions. Whose family has the stronger tradition? Which holiday is more meaningful to which partner? If both traditions are equally strong then there’s nothing to do but travel between the two households on the day (Christmas lunch at one, Christmas dinner at the other), or, if the distance is too great, alternate years. If one family’s Christmas tradition is more quintessentially unique and precious than the other, inevitably, that’s where the couple will go two out of every three Christmases. It’s a sensible enough method, but just would not work for Luke and me. Not for Christmas, anyway. I’d lose every time.

For Luke’s family, Christmas is a precious reenactment of childhood traditions. Although marriages and moves have inevitably imposed changes even on the stoutest of these traditions, basically Christmas is bursting with nostalgia every year. My family’s Christmas traditions on the other hand have, in recent years, come to represent the inconstancy of a changed family. In the past six or seven years, we’ve spent Christmas in a different location every year, with a different set of people, observing other people’s traditions more often than not (with a few remnants of ours preserved for good measure). And that’s okay. We’re okay. We’ve adapted. We always have a good time wherever we are.

Thanksgiving, too, has in recently years become a holiday in flux. Shared with in-laws in new towns, with neighbors in new cities, or sometimes with only one person in a country that doesn’t celebrate the holiday.

It wasn’t always that way. Thanksgiving and Christmas used to follow a prescribed pattern. Thanksgiving when I was younger was always at my Dad’s parent’s house, where as many aunts, uncles and cousins who could attend did. When I was a little older, Thanksgiving moved to our family’s cabin in the mountain’s. It could hold more people, and so more relatives and practically-relatives showed up. Sometimes we’d have over twenty people crowded around two or three tables. We’d play Christmas music, eat turkey and make my grandma’s famous mac n’ cheese. On the Friday after Thanksgiving, we’d have our family Christmas, since chances were we weren’t going to see all these relatives again one month later. So it was great really. Two of the eatingest holidays packed into one weekend.

Oh, how sweet it is when the stars align just so (and people’s schedules, too), that everyone can come back to a familiar spot and create a new tradition that reminds us all very much of a precious old one. Like Thanksgiving at the cabin, with over twenty people crowded around tables, and turkey, and snow, and a fire in the hearth. Even better when there are new faces mixed in with the old, and new traditions (like an oyster bar in the yard!) to remind us that our traditions are strongest when they are infused with the new.

I hope you had a happy one.

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September is birthday month for my family. My sister, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and uncle all have (or had, in the case of my great-grandmother) September birthdays. As it happens, it’s my favorite month, too. It’s usually around this time of year that we’re all itching for cooler weather – a chance to bust out the flannel and look out for pumpkins ripening in the fields – and so a trip up to the mountains is inevitable. My sister in particular usually invites a group of friends to our family’s cabin in  western North Carolina where we spend a couple days wadding in icy creeks, driving along windy, Christmas-tree lined roads, hiking up Stone Mountain and eating lots and lots of food cooked in cast iron skillets on the back porch.  Which is exactly what we did last weekend.

Actually, there was no hike up Stone Mountain this time. We were all much too busy eatin’ watermelon and drinkin’ beer on the porch. And writing songs about the stray dog who appeared outside our door that morning. We named her Pinto and, not only did my two brothers-in-law write a hilarious song about her, we also gave her a bath.

At which point I lost my wedding ring.

Yeah, that one. It was nearly dusk when I noticed, and so we only had about thirty minutes to search the grass before the dark rendered the search impossible. Thankfully, my sister took flash pictures of the grass every couple of feet, square by square by square. A few days later, she was looking back on those pictures and noticed a glint of gold in one of them. When you zoom in, you can just make out the distinct curve of a circle and the metallic shine of a gold ring. We haven’t lost hope yet. We just have to make the trek up the mountain with a metal detector to look again.

Thanks, sis! While we’re hopeful we will find it, I am thinking about getting a tattoo ring. What do you think: tacky or totally awesome? Knowing how I lose jewelry, I’m leaning toward “totally awesome.”

Lost rings aside, it was a lovely weekend escape from the steamy city to the cooler, greener hills. Yay for birthdays, family and mountains!

(All photos were taken by my wonderful sister and brother-in-law.)

 

 

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