If you are a fan of tradition, then there is no better time of the year than this. Not only do we all share traditions, but we all have our own family or individual traditions we observe that make this season special.
First, let’s talk about some shared traditions. If you came out to last weekend’s annual WBID’s Welcome Santa to Woodhaven Parade, you experienced a small hometown treat that was really something special.
Around 200 people, many of them children from our community, marched down Jamaica Avenue to help Woodhaven usher in the holiday season.
On both sides of Jamaica Avenue, residents and shoppers stood and waved and the marchers waved back. There may be a lot of tension and anxiety in our country these days, but you wouldn’t know it from the smiles on people’s faces that morning.
This came on the heels of another holiday tradition here in Woodhaven, the lighting of the tree at Forest Parkway and Jamaica Avenue. Residents packed the streets, wished each other well, sang holiday songs, and let out a big cheer when the tree was finally lit.
The tree lighting, parade, holiday lights and music on Jamaica Avenue are all neighborhood traditions. But we all have our own personal traditions that we observe at this time of year. Some of them are cultural and others come from your family.
The other night I had an occasion to recall a family Christmas tradition from many years ago. I was waiting for takeout outside the pizzeria on 95th Street and Jamaica Avenue, which is where I lived until I was 10 years old.
I looked up at my old bedroom window and remembered how many years ago my father used to paint the inside of the windows for Christmas. He would paint Santa and Frosty and Rudolph and he’d paint the words “Merry Christmas” backwards so when the lights were turned on you could read it from the street.
One year, I begged him to paint Snoopy and Charlie Brown in my window and he did. He wouldn’t let me see it while he was painting it, and only that evening did I see it when we went out on to Jamaica Avenue and looked up at the windows all lit up.
And here I was many years later, standing on Jamaica Avenue, significantly older but feeling like a kid again looking through my old bedroom window at Christmases long gone.
That Christmas tradition did not survive the move to our next apartment, but one that did was the annual decorating of our fireplace. My mom grew up in a flat in Scotland where they had fireplaces in a few different rooms, but we had none on Jamaica Avenue.
One year, just before Christmas, she saw an advert in the Buy Lines for an artificial fireplace. We went over to a house here in Woodhaven where the family was selling everything and moving to Florida. The parents were both retired and the kids were grown up with families of their own.
It was a beautiful wooden fireplace and it had been in their family for over 40 years. All of their children’s stockings hung on that fireplace, as did their family decorations and Christmas cards. You could tell they didn’t want to get rid of it, but they had no room for it where they were going and none of the kids wanted it.
We picked it up and carried it out to the car where we tied it to the roof. The old couple came out and stood on the sidewalk, tearfully waving goodbye to the fireplace as we drove off with their tradition, which was soon to become ours.
And now, another 40 years later, that fireplace is as much our family’s traditions as it ever was theirs. And though some of the stockings that we hang with care are for loved ones and friends who are no longer there, we observe these traditions in their memories.
And by doing so, we keep things familiar so that perhaps the ghosts of our Christmas past will stop by for a visit and be cheered by the fact that we keep Christmas well, just as we did when they were here by our side.