Rituals

Rituals

Eric Anderson

Every family has its Christmas traditions. Perhaps you remember growing up with a special star at the top of each year’s Christmas tree or the same delightful dessert on Christmas Eve or certain music that was always performed around the family piano.

When I was a boy, my parents were serious ritualists. They surrounded the holiday with pleasant ceremonies and strict rules.

We always had a real tree, not a fake one. We prayed for snow and never thought of fleeing Chicago for Florida or Hawaii. And of course we opened our presents on Christmas morning, not Christmas Eve.

(We were dimly aware that there were benighted souls who bought metal trees, celebrated on the beach, and opened their presents early, but we did not approve. Such people were probably pork eaters or Democrats or evolutionists!)

The greatest tradition of the Anderson household was “reading Scrooge.”

Every Christmas Eve, three or four generations of Andersons and Cavinesses, with a few other tribes thrown in, gathered around the fireplace and (fortified by chocolate chip cookies, oranges, chestnuts, and hot cider) read Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” We used a version skillfully abridged by my mother (removing all references to booze) and the whole ceremony took about two hours.

Even now I can hear my father reading that first paragraph: “Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.” At specific episodes or turns of phrase in the story, I might remember an uncle’s reading voice, or my grandmother’s interpretation, or a cousin’s ad lib commentary. Each of us children was eventually initiated into the reading fraternity—a sign of real maturity—and when I hear the story now, I think of my older brother fighting back tears at the projected death of Tiny Tim.

We’ll read the old story again this year. We will laugh again at familiar jokes, appreciate the well-worn, vivid portraits, and celebrate the ultimate transformation of “that squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner,” Mr. Scrooge.

That’s our tradition. I’d love to hear about what your family does. I just hope you keep your presents fully wrapped until dawn.

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