New Holiday Traditions

It snowed more than 2 feet this past weekend in all of the places I’ve lived north of New Orleans. Virginia declared a state of emergency, D.C. and Philly buckled under record snowfall, and Jersey and New York received their typical winter smattering of storms.

I wish I were there with my family in Jersey to shovel the mess and make snow angels, to enjoy the symbolic ushering in of the holidays. Though winter solstice was yesterday and the seasons have officially changed here in New Orleans, it still doesn’t feel like winter or Christmas. I’ve found that the days pass here in a season-less way, and the passage of time is highlighted by various parties, festivals and political indictments; the holiday spirit here differs greatly from the holidays I experienced each year up north. Back then, I’d know the holidays were fast approaching based on plummeting temperatures and the welcome sight of snow.

Snow would come weeks before Christmas and then disappear for a while, but it always seemed to return mysteriously on Christmas Eve or the following morning. Seemed like every year we’d awaken to a picturesque, snow-blanketed landscape, a proverbial “White Christmas.”

Back then, there were other indicators too: I’d visit Rockefeller Center in New York City; ice skate on ponds and at rinks; read my favorite holiday book, The Polar Express; and watch marathons of A Christmas Story while my mom baked, patisserie-style, coconut cakes, German chocolate cake and sweet potato pies.

I recall these memories with an odd and unnamable sadness. Of course I can’t read The Polar Express (especially at my age) or ice skate on Lake Pontchartrain. And of course it’s obvious the holidays are upon us — I’ve seen Christmas lights on St. Charles Avenue and frenzied shoppers in Metairie. So I’m sure the melancholy is just a natural byproduct of missing our families in New Jersey and Seattle during this time of year.

And perhaps the disquieting feeling is also just reluctance on my part to create our own holiday traditions here in New Orleans. I’m pretty sure I’ve ingrained the ritual of walking the dog around the neighborhood with a plastic goblet full of wine. But when I consider the prospect of having kids and forging new traditions with them, it’s difficult to imagine doing anything different than what I experienced as a child in cold and snowy New Jersey.
It’s not like I have family here to counsel and enlighten us along the way — if there is indeed “a way.” There are no family holiday parties to attend, grand family feasts or generations-long rituals to perform.

But in all fairness, perhaps the autonomy that comes with raising our kids away from familial influence — much less the asperity of Yankee culture — is a good thing. They’ll grow up knowing second line tunes and Cajun food, Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest, flooding and hurricanes.

Our kids won’t know the joys of a “White Christmas,” but I’m sure they’ll be grateful, nonetheless. There’s so much more to experience in the Crescent City than anywhere else, and, with that in mind, it’s a fair exchange.

Do you have any special holiday traditions of your own? No promises, though, that I won’t take your ideas and repurpose them as my own.


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