Sunday, December 15, 2013

Creating New Traditions

Christmas is a time of traditions - I'm sure that every family has some traditions that go back generations.  Of course, times change, or perhaps some of the traditions of your youth weren't your favourites, or didn't fit with your spouse's traditions when you got married, so you adopt new traditions.  My personal favourite tradition is to spend the day in pyjamas and bathrobe, drinking coffee and enjoying Andrea's cinnamon rolls, watching the family open stockings and gifts, watching old movies (bring on Alistair Sim and Scrooge), and having a wonderful turkey dinner with a special bottle of wine.

One of Andrea's family traditions, from the Scandinavian side, involved having rice pudding for dessert on Christmas Eve - a huge bowl of rice pudding, with a single almond, was passed around the table until the pudding was gone.  Whoever found the almond was supposed to have good luck for the year, and part of the fun was keeping your good luck a secret for as long as possible.  Apparently Andrea's father was a master at hiding the almond in his cheek until the end of the meal - it probably helped that he was also quite fond of rice pudding.  Andrea, on the other hand, doesn't like rice pudding, so while we lived in Ontario, if we were spending Christmas in North Bay, we had rice pudding, but once we moved out here, no more rice pudding.  The tradition that we've developed over the years is to have ice cream cake for Christmas Eve dessert - something that we all like, despite its lack of connection to our past.

On the other hand, I don't like plum pudding or mince pie for Christmas dinner dessert.  While Andrea does, instead she makes a chocolate cheesecake for dessert, and I appreciate her adjusting the tradition.  That's what we need to remember about traditions - they only work while people are willing to continue to follow them.  If they don't fit, for whatever reason, it's a mistake to just keep hanging on to doing things are certain way because that's how it's always been done.

One tradition my family had when I was a kid was to take a trip into Toronto at Christmas time.  Fergus is a little over an hour from Toronto, and while I'm sure the main purpose of the trip was so that my parents could do some shopping in the big city, the highlight for me was looking in Simpson's windows.  The Simpson's store downtown (since taken over by the Bay) had elaborately decorated windows in the four corners of their building, usually around a similar Christmas theme - not with the purpose of displaying what was for sale, but purely for the entertainment, and there was always a crowd around the windows.  After we were married, Andrea and I would always make a point of going down on a December evening to join the crowds and marvel at the creativeness of the window decorators.

That's why I was happy to hear of the Downtown Business Improvement District's idea this year to have various downtown stores and businesses reveal a specially decorated window, one a day over the first 24 days of December.  While the extreme cold weather of the last week or so hasn't helped, it's something a little different to bring people downtown, and perhaps visit a store that they wouldn't normally think to drop into.  Hopefully the next ten days will be milder, and more people will get out to appreciate the extra efforts these businesses have put in.

The reason that many people give for not spending more time downtown is that they don't feel safe there.  While increased foot patrols are a help, the real key, I think, is to give more reasons for people to go downtown - more people makes a place feel safer.  I'm not saying that one single action will change the atmosphere overnight, but change is accomplished through baby steps, and these specially decorated windows are an excellent baby step, developed by the businesses themselves, and accomplished without any additional tax payers' dollars.

So if you're looking to establish a new Christmas tradition, why not spend a half hour or so in the next ten days walking up and down Central Avenue, admiring the windows.  You even have the opportunity to vote for your favourite.  We need to spend more time at Christmas slowing down to enjoy the season, and this is a perfect opportunity.

And whatever your favourite Christmas traditions, enjoy the season.

"At Christmas play and make good cheer, for Christmas comes but once a year." - Thomas Tusser