The holidays are about tradition, but no one ever really knows when a tradtion is starting or when one will have to end.
For almost as long as we've lived in Minnesota, my parents have hosted Christmas for both sides of our family. This has meant an average of twenty or more guests piling into the ancestral estate each year, from grandparents to baby cousins once removed. But this year, due to an unfortunate combination of weather, illness and loss, it was a relatively quiet Christmas. With Uncle Pete and Aunt Greg snowed out, Pottymouth Grandma with Grandpa Ace in the hospital, and the Mater Familia and Todd celebrating with unlimited platters of divinity in Valhalla, we were down to just two of my dad's brothers and their families. Two aunts, two uncles, two cousins and a spouse. That's it. It was practically like being by ourselves.
Traditionally, our extended family has poured into the house around noon, swooping past a gullet-gorging buffet to gather in the living room, where we would then offer gifts to Gramma B and open those she'd given to us. It was an almost painful exercise, due to Gramma's fondness for craft fairs and garage sales, but as we got older we learned to appreciate the humor and misguided affection in receiving a beadazzled sweatshirt or an almost-complete set of coasters.
Traditionally, our busy Christmas days have wound down into mellow Christmas evenings, with the elders parked around the kitchen table and the older cousins taking advantage of the fully stocked bar/gameroom that my parents felt driven to create five years after I graduated high school. But this year, no amount of foosball smack talking could cover up Todd's absence, and watching my dad and cousin stomp our husbands in pool didn't bring my sister and me the satisfaction it should have.
I don't know who suggested it, but somehow, all of us but an ailing Cha Cha found our way out into the steady snowfall and into the front yard of our more topographically blessed neighbor. We dragged sleds and pre-schoolers up the hill and then went down, over and over again. It's such a goofily simple enterprise, sledding, but requires no mental effort and is filled with such basic joy. It was exactly what we needed to fill the gaps left by those who weren't with us. There was no way to ignore that they were hurting, but watching Todd's brother and mother, and even his uber-Nordic father, flying head-first down that hill with huge smiles on their faces was an enormous gift to all of us.
I don't know if this is a new tradition or not - Minnesota weather is too unpredictable to count on sled-level snow every year, let alone a group of grown adults wiling to go play in it - but it was a transition. It gave us the time we needed to enjoy each other's company without losing too many moments to the company we missed.