Fights, a holiday tradition
When the boys were little, I used to do Cinnamon Toast and Eggs Night. They loved it, probably because it involved visible sugar. I loved it because it was really easy, and I could even congratulate myself: Everyone knows that creating traditions, even simple ones, is important for children.
A friend of mine still does periodic BLT Nights, which the fam loves. Another friend once declined my Thanksgiving invitation because her then young sons became so distressed at the notion of departing from ingrained custom, and neglecting their usual guests: “But where will Bob and Jane go? What about the pumpkin muffins? What about the green beans on the green dish?”
Though disappointed to lose the chance to save labor, she had to be touched by their devotion.
Many of us have Christmas traditions as well. As I grew up, our boyish father would pile chairs and hang up blankets on Christmas morning so we couldn’t see the gifts in the living room, and he’d insist that we eat a good breakfast (eggs and more, already on the stove) before beginning the mayhem and candy consumption. My mother was a little dubious about this tenet. She and her sisters had always been allowed to rip into it all. But to this day my sibs and I remember that rule, and the heightened suspense, with pleasure, and all four of us follow it in our own households (despite my own spouse’s dubiousness).
What about other customs, real and real-world? Not long ago, when I sent a link to a great New York Times article about the importance of multigenerational family narratives (they teach children confidence and resilience), my friend B.A. wrote back:
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“Does watching ‘Die Hard’ together every Christmas count as a family tradition?”
My reply posed another question. “Does it count that every night after dinner Mike and Roy fight and wrestle? They hit and kick, laughing the whole time. The other night they broke a chair. Occasionally I get a stray blow, or am grabbed as a human shield.”
Mike and both boys have always done this, and Mike’s brother, John, always wrestled with his sons, too. When he visits or we visit him, John drops into a three-point football crouch, then springs forward to take our boys down, which has probably gotten a little harder now that they are grown. They love this.
Two years ago my older son went off to college, and a new tradition appeared: holiday fisticuffs. Now that Ted is not home for the frequent wrestling matches, they have turned into holiday ones, concentrated and not just predictable but guaranteed.
When Ted, now 21, comes home, he immediately fights with Roy, who is 18. They wrestle, roll, bellow. That first Thanksgiving, he said he could hardly wait to pounce on his little brother, adding with a smirk, “The bruises will just have had time to fade by Christmas vacation.”
Over the years I often ran downstairs to separate them when I heard Roy screaming, but even he, younger and smaller, would protest, “No, we like it!”
Of course their beloved rows frequently go south. Last year during an in-house basketball game — simply throwing a foam ball against an X taped to the wall — the boys crossed the line and descended into name-calling and stomping off. This year the two devolved into a hideous argument over a stupid NFL video game, or rather a series of games. I had seen the build-up, heard the accusations that the other was “lucky,” the demands for rematches.
“No more NFL!” I had said.
“No, we like it!” Roy had insisted again. Until the day they really blew up, mad for two days.
When I said that’s it, no more of that game, he said, “It’s not the game, Mom. It could be anything. It’s just us.”
“Femaelstrom” appears on the third Friday of each month. Alison Osius lives in Carbondale, where she is a climber, skier and magazine editor. Contact her at email@example.com.
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