Holiday traditions, muscle memory for your heart

On Christmas morning this year, my wife and I will awake at her parents’ house. We’ll tromp down stairs in our Christmas pajamas — more on that later — and sort through stockings before diving into presents.

The evening before we’ll likely munch on finger foods, watch a holiday episode or two of a sitcom, play dirty Santa — aka Chinese Christmas — and open our Christmas pajamas. The Christmas PJs, often holiday themed, are to be worn on Christmas eve and then downstairs for presents on Christmas morning. Pictures are always involved and taking a morning shower and putting the PJs back on is discouraged.

Growing up, my experience was a bit different. On Christmas Eve we would open presents from my parents; there were no Christmas pajamas and no dirty Santa. On Christmas morning we would often eat homemade Chex party mix and buttermilk pie for breakfast (What? It’s milk and cereal.) and see our gifts from Santa before heading to my grandmother’s house.

So, how is every Christmas, while different from other people’s celebrations, always marked the same way for each family? Say it with me, “It’s tradition.”

Before I go any farther, let me say this I don’t pretend to be an expert on human interaction or psychology. This is just what I’ve observed.

Traditions are comfortable and familiar. They’re the worn pair of jeans or shoes you should probably get rid of but the fit is just right after all these years. “Traditions, traditions. Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as, as, as a fiddler on the roof!” as Tevye puts it in “Fiddler on the Roof.”

However, when it comes to holiday traditions, I’m not sure it’s fear of the unknown that keeps us following them. I believe that just like a favorite childhood food is a favorite because of the memories (see the above mention of Chex mix and buttermilk pie), traditions, too, stir memories in us.

For me it’s memories of seeing everyone glowing with excitement at the site of a full Christmas tree engulfed with presents; the feeling of sitting on the couch, in my Christmas pajamas, on Christmas morning with my wife on our first Christmas together after having to travel alone in some of the worst Oklahoma snow I’ve ever seen and finally arriving on Christmas morning.

I think that’s why Christmas traditions are important. They’re almost like muscle memory for your most cherished moments in life. When you observe those traditions, the actions help you to remember.

Happy birthday Monday to Josh Warren and Charlotte Royal both of Sherman; Terry O’Toole of Sadler; Misty Flowers of Denison; Perry Montgomery of Luella; Debbie Monroe of Bells; Beverly Taylor of Hendrix, Okla.