The scene is Samantha’s car—which smells like Christmas. It is filled with greens to adorn the exterior of her home, a 1900 Victorian cottage nestled in one of Newport, Rhode Island’s most historic neighborhoods. Having grown up in an apartment—with an artificial tree and blue plastic garland, this was a tradition she and her husband had established when they moved into their home in the late 1990s—real everything: real tree, real greens, real wreath, real berries.
In the car also happen to be three very curious boys—who, due to the lack of trunk in their new vehicle, are actually keeping company with the greens on the ride home.
Oscar, age seven, is in the back row, overseeing and reporting on everything. Six-year-old Edgar and two-year-old August are in the middle row.
OSCAR. Mom, what are these long branchy things in the car?
SAMANTHA. Those are pussy willow branches.
OSCAR. Why do we have them?
SAMANTHA. To put in our planters. To decorate.
EDGAR. Oooh, look there are little soft things on them. You can touch them August.
[August pulls one off.]
EDGAR. Make sure you don’t put that in your mouth, August. [August pretends to put it in his mouth, then smiles wryly.]
[Not to be outdone by his two-year-old brother, Edgar pulls one off.]
OSCAR. Mom, are you aware that Edgar and August are destroying those branches you just bought?
SAMANTHA. [maintaining a calm exterior but inside terrified that her traditional holiday décor is about to be dismantled] Edgar and August, those are for decorating the house. Please don’t ruin them.
EDGAR. We’re not ruining them. We’re just looking at them. With our hands.
SAMANTHA: They’re for looking at, Edgar. Not for touching.
EDGAR. But that’s no fun.
And he’s right, of course.
Traditions are important, but children continually remind us that they also must be flexible. There must be room within our traditions for new ways of seeing, new ways of doing—for the unexpected. For 14 years, my husband and I bought our decorations, handled them gingerly, and arranged and displayed them proudly. What Edgar and August reminded me that afternoon in the car is that as a family we are constantly reinventing existing traditions and creating new ones. And I suspect we always will.
The pussy willow branches we used to decorate for Christmas 2011 are now part of our history. They might not look like those of Christmases past—but with these hands as part of their current look, I would argue they look better than they ever have.
In the spirit of new traditions, I would like to invite you over to my blog (www.samanthahines.wordpress.com) to read my first product review. It’s for Looking Glass, a fantastic app for your iPhone or iPad geared for children ages 2-8. Please leave a comment on the blog by Wednesday, 14 December 2011 at 11:59 PM EST, to enter a drawing for a $25 iTunes gift card.