While I officially stopped believing when I was 9, I'm pretty sure I never really bought the whole Santa thing. I know the year I stopped believing in Santa because, like most of the major events of my life, I have it documented in one of the bagillion journals I have kept over the years. When I was 9, I started a "tradition" of my own, that has come to mean a great deal to me over the years. Sometime between Christmas eve and New Years day, I started writing a letter to myself. As I continued this ritual for years and years, part of the tradition became reading my old letters. At 12, and 16, and 21, it was strangely comforting to have this tradition that was all my own, away from the hustle and confusion and chaos that seemed to be associated with the holidays. Until now, this tradition of mine has always been "secret." I never wanted anyone to know what I was doing, why I did it, or how much it meant to me. I didn't want to answer any questions about why it was important, or what I wrote in these letters. In a family that was often into, on top of, underneath, and in between everyone else's business, having this one private tradition was essential.
As a child being raised with parents of different religions, celebrating Christmas, Chanukah, and sometimes the solstice too, I was not always sure what this time of year meant. To be perfectly honest, I am still trying to determine what means the most to me, how I want to celebrate it, and how I want to conceptualize it in my mind so that the traditions feel meaningful and the holiday spiritually fulfilling. I haven't gotten there yet. My tradition, though--my secret tradition--is special. It gives me the permission to take the time and space to reflect on the year. To talk to myself and take stock of what is going on with me, what's good, what's bad, what's changed, and what needs changing. As I read some of my letters, I laugh remembering the craziness of that year, or laugh at how I thought I would never forget it, and I can now barely remember what I thought was so important. Some of the letters, though, make me sad. There were some rough years in there, and I wish someone had told me things would be okay. I wish someone had told me somewhere along the line that I was a pretty cool kid. I don't think I would have listened or been able to hear it, but I wish I could have told me that I was definitely pretty okay.
I haven't gone back and checked, but I'm pretty sure that I have a letter written every year from the time I was 9 until I was 25. Last year, though, I didn't write a letter. I wanted to write a letter. I tried to write a letter. I'm pretty sure I even started a letter. But I didn't write one. I even remember starting a post for this very blog about the fact that I was not writing a letter, and trying to justify not writing one. I told myself that traditions change, and that this is a good thing. I was lying to myself, though, and I knew it, so I didn't write the blog post OR the letter. Halfway through January, I was still thinking about the damn letter, feeling like it should be written. At that point, I told myself the chance was already past, and I didn't really want to write the letter anyway, and soon, I forgot about it. (I swear, I am not normally this rigid about things). I guess 2010 was just a rough year, and one that I was not ready to think about or remember.
When I was very young (and in some of my older letters, too), I started out by writing a bulleted list of "who I am." This ranged from lists of adjectives to descriptions of how I wore my hair to long lists of what types of music I liked and my favorite books. Looking back at some of those letters, you would think I was putting them into a time capsule, or explaining myself to an alien who knows nothing about this culture, much less me. There was a time when I could write long lists of who I am that was punctuated by exclamation points, smiley faces, stars, hearts, and positivity. These lists gradually faded away and have become increasingly difficult to write. Last year, even the act of writing the letter was an act of self-care and, potentially, gentleness, that I was unable and unwilling to venture into. That I was unwilling to give myself. Perhaps I was unsure of who I was. Maybe I still am.
This year, though, I am going to write a letter. I haven't written it yet. I'm not going to post it here when I do write it, because this tradition is secret, remember, and it is just for me. This tradition is something that, in my core, is important to me. It is something I want to continue to do--for me. Perhaps you could even say this tradition I developed is part of who I am.
Do you have a personal holiday tradition that is meaningful for you? Have you/do you write yourself letters? Would you consider writing down who you are--now? Be gentle with yourself as you write. Remember that the events and memories you share with your paper are precious, and that every part of you is deserving of love and gentleness because those memories make up the person you are today. I will try to remember this as I write, too.