Holiday celebrations

We’ve never gotten too carried away with holiday celebrations in our household. We like to recognize birthdays and anniversaries and we enjoy the surprises of occasional gifts, but we’re not the house on the block that has the correct decorations for each season. We wished each other “Happy Valentine’s Day!” and had a nice dinner that evening, but there were no bouquets of flowers, boxes of chocolates or balloons. I did a bit of grocery shopping on Valentine’s Day and was entertained by the line of shoppers purchasing last minute gifts, flowers, balloons and chocolates. My cart, on the other hand, had bread, milk, and other staples.

As soon as Valentine’s Day was over, the St. Patrick’s Day decorations appeared. Store aisles went from red to green in a single day. I haven’t needed to go back to the grocery store, but I’m pretty sure that the inventory of Valentine’s Day flowers and candies have already been replaced by other displays.

Last night I was informally visiting with a friend before a church meeting and the conversation drifted from Valentine’s Day to St. Patrick’s Day. My friend asked me if our family had a tradition of giving St. Patrick’s Day Potatoes. I knew nothing of the tradition. I commented that we lived in Idaho for ten years and we made and endured a lot of different potato jokes. I’ll spare you the whole joke and just leave the punchline: After all, the license plates say “famous” potatoes, not “good” potatoes. That wasn’t what my friend had in mind. There is a confection available at certain chocolate shops that is called a St. Patrick’s Day Potato. It is divinity with nuts that is covered with milk chocolate. Then it is rolled in cocoa and cinnamon and topped with “eyes” made of pine nuts. I looked it up on the Internet and it doesn’t look very much like a potato to me, but I’m no expert in chocolates.

According to my friend, you can’t obtain St. Patrick’s Day Potatoes in our county. The nearest store that sells them is a 45-mile drive away. My friend described the store to me as if I were already familiar with it, but I’ve never been there and I’m unlikely to make the trip. I’m OK with an occasional taste of divinity, but it isn’t one of my passions. A piece of divinity the size of a potato doesn’t seem like a good idea at all to me. Then again, I have no idea what size the confection is. It isn’t a tradition in our house.

We did have Easter baskets in my house when I was growing up and we made up Easter baskets for our children when they were young. There were always a few candy eggs and a few of the eggs we had died. My favorite Easter candy is probably jelly beans, but they’ve become so popular as a year-round offering that no one has to wait until Easter to find them.

Becoming an expert in just the right candy gift for each holiday isn’t among my ambitions.

It is interesting, however, to observe couples as they navigate holiday expectations together. I remember knowing, before we were married, that my wife’s family had a tradition of opening Christmas gifts on Christmas Eve while my family opened gifts on Christmas day. Since our parents lived 80 miles apart, the difference in traditions served us well during the early years of our marriage. We’d celebrate Christmas Eve with her parents and then get up early the next morning and celebrate with my parents. In general, however, we grew up in homes that were similar in our celebrations. We carved pumpkins at Halloween and dyed eggs at Easter. We put up a Christmas Tree and purchased gifts for birthdays. Neither family got carried away with decorating, special sets of holiday china, or having just the right kind of candy for a particular occasion.

I have known couples that had a much more challenging time managing expectations around how to celebrate occasions. There are some who expect gifts for lots of different holidays. There are expectations of special meals and expectations about which partner should take responsibility for making sure that the right traditions are observed. Each couple has to work through those expectations and there can be a few missteps along the way. My friend was laughing about not having a St. Patrick’s Day Potato as a gift in the early days of their marriage, but I have the impression that it wasn’t really a laughing matter at the time. Expecting a gift that doesn’t come can be a disappointment.

On the other hand, one of the joys of a new relationship is forming new traditions. Making the move from our home in South Dakota to Washington has given us the possibility of forging a few new traditions. In South Dakota we always went into the hills with a tree permit to cut our Christmas tree. Here we have purchased live trees and planted them at our son’s farm after the holiday. We are developing new traditions about which holiday meals are served at which house now that we live just a couple of miles from our son and his family. I’m sure our holiday traditions will continue to evolve as time passes. Still I don’t expect that I’ll be lining up to purchase a cart full of chocolates, flowers and balloons on Valentine’s Day and I’m in no rush to get a St. Patrick’s Day Potato even though I know that it is a seasonal confection and available only in a limited supply at a particular candy shop. I’ll leave those traditions for others.

I’ve lived my adult life inside of the calendars of church life, so for me the next holiday isn’t one that is marked by advertisers. Transfiguration Sunday is coming up and after that Ash Wednesday. We’ll mark both with trips to the church for worship. I know that readings for both holidays. There is no need for special decorations or gifts. But the days are rich in meaning for our people. Perhaps the most important thing about celebrations is remembering.

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