Make love a wonderful part of all your holiday traditions


My son and I have recently returned to the north country. Fall is upon us and, as the leaves change color and then drift slowly, one by one to the ground, the holiday season inches closer, and the reality of how it will be shaped becomes clearer with each frosty morning. The first day I had to scrape the windshield of my car because it was white with frozen condensation, I started thinking seriously about what we would do for Thanksgiving and then, one of my favorite times of year, Christmas.

As a military family, we have spent many years moving around and creating new memories and traditions in other places. We’ve haphazardly and hopefully made the best of the season in whatever state we happen to reside in at the time. Christmas Eve has been spent with family who traveled to visit us, but it was never the same members year after year. We’ve always been blessed with amazing neighbors, and often our relationships blossomed into friendships that were deep and trusting. “Friends like family,” I am often heard to say.

This is a phenomenon that happens often in the military lifestyle, where people are separated from their family, and offer each other support and love, making what could be a lonely holiday into one that is bright and merry. We have spent many Christmas dinners laughing and enjoying new foods and traditions that are part of friend’s holiday customs. Over time, many of the things I have observed and spent hours doing with others have been woven into my own Christmases. It is because of these years celebrating with others that I serve a standing rib roast for dinner on Christmas, learned to make blue cheese potatoes, and play games from England, which involve wearing shiny paper crowns and blowing a whistle. If we hadn’t been so far away from our own families and rituals, we would have never been exposed to, or taken part in many things. It’s about making the best of whatever situation you’re in.

I realize though, that all the seasons that my son and I have been far away, making the best of it, our friends and family back here have continued on, growing more rooted in their own holiday traditions. It’s hard to know exactly where we will fit in. I used to host a Christmas Eve open house when I lived here years ago. I want to do that again, but realize many of the people who attended have long since moved away, or learned to fill the night left open by our absence with other plans.

I hope that we are able to find a way to balance our needs and visions of the season with the customs and planned gatherings of those we love and want to spend time with. I look upon the season once again with hope, and know that if we give love, and keep our expectations in check, we will find that we are on a path that will lead us to new and more permanent holiday traditions. I know if we have a gorgeous tree with twinkling lights that will make nights at home seem a little magical. And as I take the time to prepare the foods that we’ve incorporated into our lives, and play the games, and remember the things we’ve learned from all the years spent away from home, we will end up with a Christmas season that overflows with the love. We will have a fabulous holiday season with all the memories, all the laughter we’ve shared and by holding it all this in our hearts. Our new traditions will be constructed from parts of the past, faith in the future and a joy in our hearts.

I look forward to crisp white snow, the smell of our tree and time spent wrapping gifts. I anticipate finding the perfect present for someone I love, for giving little gag gifts to family members and friends, and placing the name of an unsuspecting person on the “From:” line on the tag.

I am a little excited about hosting Christmas Eve again, even if only a few people can make it. I know Christmas morning will be wonderful when we watch my young niece and nephew open their gifts. I like the idea of watching a movie on Christmas afternoon, sitting in the dark theatre, munching popcorn, knowing that the tree and that one favorite gift waits for you at home.

I realize that I don’t have to come up with new holiday traditions. I already have a lot of them. I will just add new ones to what is a fairly long and cool list. And I get to do this here at home, in a place where I have all the things I need: a lot of friends, a lot of family, and many friends who are like family, too. I see now that the most consistent part of my holiday traditions is spending time with people I love, and even though a lot of things have changed over the years, this has always remained the same.

Love, it’s my Christmas tradition.

Kathleen Smith Hirschey is a north country native who lives in Watertown. She works in the human service field and spends her spare time writing, trying to become a better cook, attempting to outwit her teenage son and dreaming of the day when she can live on a beach. Check out her blog, or email her at Her column appears in every issue.