When we were first married and beginning to celebrate Christmas together as a couple, I am sure there were more than a few traditions we each brought from our families that needed some reconciling.
For instance, I clearly recall a significant bit of conversation around when to open presents.
My family always opened just one gift on Christmas Eve after Midnight Mass – usually pajamas (Thank you Mom!) – and then saved all the rest for Christmas morning. Then we spent the morning working our way through presents, pausing to eat some breakfast, and returning to the fun.
Joshua’s family opened all the presents under the tree after a vigil Mass and dinner on Christmas Eve. Then on Christmas morning there was one unwrapped present for each of them that had been left by Santa. Which, to me, begged the question, “Well then what do you do all morning on Christmas?!” Seemed like a big vacuous space at the time.
After not too many years we came to a lovely hybrid that incorporated our favorite elements from each tradition and a lot of lefse (Scandinavian potato pancakes with butter and sugar). Good compromise!
Another tradition that has taken much longer to reconcile involves Christmas music.
Music around the house is a big part of Joshua’s family year-round. For my family we really only played the Notre Dame Victory March during games in the fall (Go Irish, Beat ‘Bama!). But when Christmas came around it seemed like Manheim Steamroller and the Carpenters Christmas album were on all the time. Sounds of the season!
Well, in Joshua’s family, the “sounds of the season” were from John Denver’s Christmas with the Muppets album. There are several songs on that album that at first hearing caused me to think I would go out of my mind, but one that really irked me was “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”
In case you don’t know how this particular version of the song goes, let me elucidate. Think of the tune in your head (We wish you a Merry Christmas, we wish…etc). Then there is the verse “We won’t go until we get some, we won’t…” Ok, on the Muppets version of this song, as soon as the chorus sings “We won’t go…” the character “Animal” screams in his undeniably animal voice “Won’t Go!” And proceeds to do that after every “We won’t go.”
Joshua was very understanding that I was not a big fan of the Muppets Christmas album and never pushed playing it when Christmas came around. However, I knew it really made him feel like Christmas at home to hear it, so we play it one time through each year.
This year as we began to enter Advent in a new locale, we decided to take advantage of some free Christmas activities around campus – one of which was a Christmas concert by the glee club.
I have only recently realized how deeply I love acapella music. The glee club concert was a particularly enjoyable set of traditional hymns and songs performed while the audience stood around casually in a large hall sipping hot chocolate and hot cider. They fittingly chose to conclude their concert with the song, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”
Well it was beautiful. But honestly it felt a bit lacking. I couldn’t put my finger on what was lacking…until we were walking out of the concert all singing the tune and one of the children pipes in with “Won’t Go!” à la “Animal” from the Muppets.
Yup, that’s what was missing. I have actually gotten to the point where that song feels a bit incomplete without the Muppets’ interjections.
I think that hits upon the joy of married life. I used to be a certain way and was complete and healthy and whole in that way of being, with my own habits and traditions. But marriage opens up new ways of being. Some of them aren’t immediately fun and enjoyable.
But they matter to my beloved and so they have to have value for me. Over time, and without necessarily trying to be considerate or even self-less, I genuinely learn to love things that I once did not. And those elements become a part of this new identity that we share. No longer “Joshua’s family” and “my family” – but “our family.” And that is a joy. And a gift.
A few days ago we went Christmas caroling as a family to a nursing home for retired priests. We were a small part of a large group “decking” the halls all together. When the time came to sing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” our little family quietly sang our “Won’t Go!”s under our breath. A father nearby turned smiling and said, “Muppets, right?”