Today the light returned. I joined the livestream from Stonehenge as people from all over the world joined in person and online to watch the sun rise between those ancient stones. For all our cumulative scientific knowledge that gives us assurance that the sun will indeed return, there was something deeply touching about the collective joy when that assurance was validated by glimmers of light over the horizon.
In recent years I’ve been paying more attention to the rhythms of light and dark in my world. I celebrated the solstice yesterday – marking the shortest day of the year by lighting a fire in my garden, bundling myself in my rocking garden chair with blankets, books and marshmallows. And today the light begins rolling back the dark, lengthening the light hours, minute by minute.
I, like many TCKs, have a funny relationship with festive traditions. As in, I’m not sure what they are, or how to keep them! Some TCKs have very familiar traditions but in my family, it really depended on what country we were in at the time. If in the UK, we’d spend Christmas with my grandmother and the 5 hour journey would lend a sense of the epic to this time. I know that’s nothing to many readers, but to us in the UK 5 hours on the road always carries a certain risk of landing ourselves in the ocean! She would save decorating the tree until we arrived, and given that it was about 2 foot high, we’d get this done quickly and enthusiastically, with mounds of tinsel. But many of our Christmases were spent in Niger, and my memories of tradition here are scrappy. We didn’t have tree as such, but we’d glue cotton to thorn branches as a facsimile, and I think Christmas lunch was bought in – and delicious beef kebab rather than turkey and stuffing.
I’ve been in the UK for 21 years now (!) and I still feel I’m finding my feet around tradition. It’s as if my brain refuses to trust in replication as an option, so every year I feel the need to check with my circle what the expectations are. I treat each year as if it’s a brand new invention, though over time certain elements keep making a come back.
I don’t trust the light will return.
Trusting the light will return feels like setting myself up to ‘get it wrong’, to make too many assumptions or to feel disappointed if someone else changes the arrangements on me. So I start canvasing hopes and expectations in the people around me months in advance. Because the worst thing I feel I could do would be take anything for granted.
I wonder what would happen if I changed my narrative here; if I rescripted, “I don’t know how to have traditions” to “these are my traditions”?
Oooph… a child down my spine. The audacity. The blatant brashness of assuming I am allowed tradition.
The silly thing is I already have expectations. I know what I WANT to happen. But I don’t know I’m ALLOWED to want these things to happen. I don’t know it’s okay to behave as though my traditions are reasonable expectations.
When I celebrated the solstice, I was allowed to expect the sun to return. This expectation was bolstered and encouraged by centuries of tradition of overnight vigils and fire lighting and yule log burning. There is a vibrant community in the present too who showed up to expect the same as me.
TCK communities are transient. This feels like one of the most fundamental truths we need to accept about the TCK experience. We very often have short memories as a community, so even while communities abroad may be close and socially involved, traditions are a particular and unique hybridisation of the combination of people and backgrounds who are present at any given time. And then they leave. Or we leave. And the hybridisation starts over again. Some family units develop strong traditions that are intentionally portable (one of ours was Saturday lunchtime crepe pancakes with lemon and sugar – no matter what country we were in) and this is a wonderful way of creating a certainty and sense it’s safe to expect repetition. But sometimes traditions simply don’t travel very well. When this is the case TCKs forfeit a sense of community meaning making or validity around certain traditions that mean we really are reinventing the wheel every year.
There is a distinct advantage to this too, of course. We can avoid getting locked into traditions that don’t have meaning to us, and we have adaptability and flexibility to incorporate new traditions when that feels helpful to use – in a new place, or due to new relationships or family members.
But I’d like to allow myself tradition. The very fact that I find it difficult within myself to assert assumption of continuity onto my own plans and the people around me invites curiosity. If I find it hard, there is work to be done here!
So if I was to be so bold as to state the traditions that matter to me, and so brash as to say they matter enough for me to want to keep them, I’d say…
I love having stockings from Santa. I want these now to when I’m 85.
I want Turkish Delight. Because the White Witch from Narnia had it and I so strongly associate the old BBC adaptation with an English Christmas.
I want croissants for breakfast.
I want chocolate Yule log and mince pies and brussel sprouts.
I want a Christmas tree big enough to confuse my cat and twinkle lights.
I want to make a gingerbread house for new year – and eat it tile by tile every time I walk by it!
I want to send Christmas cards – I know it’s a waste of paper but I love signs of care and love from people dotted around my home, and I want my gesture of care to be on someone’s mantlepiece too.
I can make these traditions happen. They are all within my power. But first I have to name them as mattering. As being worth the bother. As light I want to see return.
Today the light returned. The days will get longer. This can be counted upon.
Today we can choose traditions to bring back. We can prioritize them and learn to count on the ones we want to bring again.
What shining traditions would you want to count on returning, if it were safe to assume consistency within your reach?