The holiday tradition that kept my family together

Traditions are contingent on routine—the lucky socks you wear to every baseball game, the family barbecue every Memorial Day. Sometimes without discernible purpose, but always with meaning, these rituals shape families, communities, and cultures. In times of turmoil or uneasiness, we cling to these moments of familiarity.

Growing up, it seemed like the only constant was a cardboard box. My father worked with the military, and every two or three years, we were taking out the bubble wrap and packing tape to gather our belongings for the next great adventure. They say that a house is just a structure, but a home is wherever your heart is. The backdrops to our Christmases were ever-changing, but no matter the local climate, our household was warm with the comfort of my favorite family tradition.

I am not sure when the tradition started, but every Christmas morning my brother and I would plant ourselves in front of the tree. Mom would get breakfast ready: a hearty meal of marble cake with buttercream frosting and a cold glass of milk. Legend has it that one Christmas morning when my brother and I were both still very young, my mother allowed us to choose our own breakfast, and we promptly selected the leftover cake from an office holiday party.

Perhaps because she was feeling the Christmas spirit a little extra that year (or more likely was too tired to object), my mother acquiesced to our little hearts’ delight. Each year as we ate, my mother would start to dole out the presents, creating a small mound of glitter bows and tissue paper in front of us. My dad in his recliner, my brother on the couch, and me sprawled out on the floor, we each carved out our own little fortress.

After our presents were unwrapped (and put away in their new respective spots in our rooms), we’d get ready for my favorite part of Christmas. Bundled in scarves or donning a tank and flip flops (depending on that year’s locale), my family would pile into the car and drive to our nearest movie theater. In South Korea, it was a one-screen theater, showing a weekend-long loop of the latest blockbuster. In Georgia, we’d park at the end of a mile-long strip mall, and navigate the largest Cineplex I have ever seen.

Whether it was a matinee of Harry Potter or a showing of an ill-advised Jack Black Treasure Island reboot, we didn’t care. With the popcorn, the trailers, and our “movie sweatshirt” (because ALL theaters are chilly), and amongst the explosions, secret agents, and quirky love stories, we were home.

[Image via Universal Pictures]

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