Barbara Hill

Barbara Lynch Hill

Family traditions

Like most of us, my family is now well into our individual Christmas traditions, decorating trees and homes – sometimes outside as well – and planning holiday meals. We’ve tried to ignore the decorated holiday trees that popped up before Halloween and closed our ears to the carols which have been wafting in the air in nearly every store we’ve entered for weeks.

We’re firm believers in the Ecclesiastes message that: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.. .” That’s tradition and these customs are precious because we often inherit many from our parents and pass them on to our children.

I’ve scaled down quite a bit now that Jim has gone to celebrate Christmas in heaven. I have a beautiful tabletop ceramic tree, made by my sister Cynthia, which holds the place of honor this year. We celebrate the liturgical season of Advent as well, and as part of this observance have been to the Crèche Festival at Mepkin Abby. It’s a wonderful way to set the tone for the special birthday we’ll be celebrating on the 25th. I bought a lovely, but simple crib scene this year which features but four attendees: Jesus, Mary Joseph, and an angel. and fits perfectly on the mantle.

It used to be that most people put up trees on Christmas Eve and the season lasted for what was then the traditional 12 days. Even when I was a girl – lo these many seasons ago – a lot of people followed that trend – but not my family. We always put ours up on December 18th and as it stood in the bay window in the front of our house, it was usually the first one seen on the street. We got chided about it from our neighbors.

Mom didn’t care. She insisted on this because it was dad’s birthday and she wanted to make it our family special tradition – and for good reason. My dad, who was born in 1902, was the second youngest of eight and his parents convinced him that since his natal day was so close to the 25th, he would have a birthday cake, but not get a gift as he would receive an even bigger present for Christmas.

Dad told the tale every year of how he never remembered getting anything more on Christmas than any of his siblings. “But what else could you expect, he used to say wryly, “from a family that also convinced me that the part of the chicken that went over the fence last” – and which he declared was what the only piece ever left on the platter when it came to him – “was the best part of all.”

Traditions, poignant or gleeful, are integral parts of our lives. And they can always be “upgraded” as my mother used to say.

Our personal seasonal decorations include many choirs of angels, which have collected me for over four decades. They are made of plaster and glass, silk and bamboo, silver and china, as well as toothpicks, thimbles and golf tees.

For me, as I set them up each year, these heavenly aerialists are glorious symbols of what’s traditionally called: “The reason for the season.”

Barbara Hill is a local historian and former reporter for the Summerville Journal Scene.