Sunday, December 12, 2010

Christmas and our Pavlovian traditions

Most of us love traditions. These comforting rituals affirm some predictability in our sometimes chaotic, always unpredictable, lives. Some are so old, no one is really sure what they mean.

For instance, before the arrival of the Queen in the State Coach, the Yeomen of the Guard, now usually seen at the Tower of London, search the cellars beneath the Palace of Westminster as a precautionary measure. This is as a consequence of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605 when Guy Fawkes and a number of other conspirators tried to blow up King James I and his parliament.

Guy Fawkes—dirty name and tradition starter.

On a far lesser scale, traditions and rituals can be more provincial. Back in my high school days, whenever our team won a football game, some of us went out to the country (a three minute drive) and tipped over a cow. For those who are offended by such behavior, take solace in the knowledge that we only tipped three cows in three years due to an abysmal football squad.

Breaking things down even further, each family possesses its own traditions. In fact, my kids manufacture new traditions every time one of the acts involves a treat at the end. My older daughter once accompanied me for a haircut, and afterward I bought her a chocolate cupcake, a really, really good cupcake with bits of cherry in the frosting. Boom—new tradition. Now, my little Pavlovian salivates instantly whenever we pass Rudy's Barbershop.

Summer acting camp = root beer floats after the Friday-night performance. Dinner at Elliott Bay Pub = ice cream afterwards at Husky Deli. Thanksgiving at Grandma's = shrimp with cocktail sauce. A trip to Safeway = a slightly illegal two-pack of saltines from the soup area.

During the holiday season, traditions thrive, and ours shift into overdrive. This morning, we visited Santa Claus at the Downtown Seattle Nordstrom store. We've done this with friends for twelve straight years, and it's gotten to the point where Santa's lap loses feeling if my daughters plant on his jolly thighs for too long. And now, when one of us says, "Looks like someone needs a nap," my wife and I aren't referring to our kids.

Afterwards, we ride the holiday carousel and have lunch at the Nordstrom CafĂ© (If you've noticed a particular corporation mentioned twice, it's possible that I work there and now is the time to stock up on cushy UGG® Australia boots for her before sheep go on the endangered species list.).

Christmas Eve is all about visiting Pike Place Market, buying fresh crab, going home and preparing crab cakes and "Oprahtatoes" for dinner, opening one present each and watching "The Polar Express." This stuff runs like such clockwork, I'm expecting one of my kids to say, "Dad, the train's sliding on the ice. It's time for you to go to the bathroom and blow your nose."

Christmas Day is spent with the kids' grandparents, where we eat dinner around 2:00, recline in, well, recliners, and watch "A Christmas Story" and a more abstract holiday movie called "A Matter of Principle." My kids can quote each movie like Rocky Horror groupies.

With all of these traditions already firmly established, I'd still be willing to begin a few new ones with the kids, like the daily remembering-to-flush-the-toilet observance or the sacrifice of the empty popsicle box still sitting in the freezer.

Please reply in the comments section with your strange or cool traditions.

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