He does Christmas a certain way because, well, that's how it's always been done. Simple as that.
He can describe in exact detail every song that was sung at mass, and who sat where, and who cooked what, for pretty much every Christmas of his life. In fact, just today, he cheered me up via email by reminding me of our very first Christmas together in New York, the year after we got engaged. He remembers everything. He remembers the sleigh ride we went on, when it was about three zillion degrees below zero and I almost died. He remembers that his mom had to give me a wool coat because I got off the plane wearing just my leather jacket. ("Where's your coat?" she asked. "I'm wearing it," I replied. She looked at me and then at Bart before saying "oh, honey," and I was pretty certain I hadn't received a passing grade from my future mother-in-law, but I wasn't quite certain why - until we walked out of the airport and into the frozen wasteland that is central New York in December.) My husband remembers all of this in great detail - he even remembers what his parents gave me for Christmas that year, and yes, it made me blush.
The tradition, the pomp and circumstance, it's all important to him. He wants everything just the way it always was, every year, because that's what makes it special to him.
Me? Not so much. I mean, sure, we had traditions around Christmas, too, but I don't remember them with such clarity. I remember the train set going around the tree. We built tunnels out of the presents and tried not to crash the train into the packages. I remember getting pajamas from one grandmother and a silver dollar from the other. I remember that my mom made us eat scrambled eggs in the morning, and gawd but I hated those eggs. They tasted like disappointment to me, because I wanted to be opening presents and playing with my new stuff, not sitting at a table eating eggs. Mostly, though, I remember my Christmases for the things that made them different, not the ways they were the same. I remember getting a giant stuffed monkey one year. I remember the year that my dad made miniature doll house furniture for me and my sister. We each got a doll house. My mom wallpapered mine in yellow and my sister's in pink. Some years I think there were relatives at the dinner table, and other years, not. Some years my aunt knitted me a sweater. Some years we went to midnight mass.
See, but none of it sticks out in my mind as something you have to do. And maybe that's why Christmas is so much harder on Bart this year than it is on me. Because he is doing it ALL WRONG. There are no trees. There are no walnut dream cookies. There is no fudge. There are no boxes of gifts hidden in the basement. He had to tell me where he hid my stocking stuffers so I can fill my own stocking at midnight, and believe me when I tell you it's driving him crazy to not be here to manage the stockings.
For me, it's hard this year because I'm trying to find a way to make it special that doesn't stress me out too much but still allows the kids to enjoy it as much as they can without their dad here. I'm working, after all, and why I didn't think to request a few days off, I'll never know. We were invited somewhere for Christmas Eve and somewhere else for Christmas Day: after all of those years spent taking in strays during the holidays, it seems I'm a stray myself this year, elbowing my way into other people's celebrations.
It's okay. The way I see it, my tradition isn't really a tradition. I make stuff up as I go along. I don't have a traditional meal that I have to prepare for dinner on Christmas Eve. I try to make it fancy each year, but it's never the same thing twice.
So I wasn't really worried that the kids were missing out on anything. I mentioned to Bart that Aidan wants to make those peppermint bark cookies that we've made for the last few years, but I haven't quite gotten around to it yet. I was a bit stressed about it, feeling as though I was failing in the cookie baking department, but Bart was thrilled to know the kid got his "this is how the holiday is supposed to be done" gene.
And then tonight, while I was chatting with Bart via Skype, Shay popped in. We were talking about our plans for Christmas morning and I casually mentioned that I was thinking we'd have bacon and grapefruit for breakfast - the kids never want to eat much in the morning anyway, just like me, all those years ago. They don't want to waste time at the kitchen table.
But Shay shot me a look of horror and said "no, no, no, mom. Bacon? Grapefruit? That's just an ordinary school breakfast. You always make cream cheese braids for breakfast on Christmas morning!" He's right. I always do. But they take hours and hours to make, and you have to start them the day before, and I don't even have sour cream in the house.
It appears, however, that I will be braiding pastries well into the night tomorrow, because this is a tradition we cannot live without. This, and NORAD's Santa tracker, and skyping with family, and watching Christmas movies.
Something about making do without the typical trappings of Christmas is teaching me that those trappings really do matter, not just to my husband, but to me as well.
(Don't tell my husband he was right, though. I'm still going to pretend it's all no big deal.)
Next year, I won't complain about the time spent putting up all those trees and baking all those cookies. Next year, I'll plan it better so I can fit it all in. For this year, we'll just enjoy what we have: each other. We have each other, and bacon, and grapefruit... and some hastily assembled cream cheese braids. And, hopefully, lots and lots of coffee. I have a feeling I'm going to need coffee, come Christmas morning. I wonder if that's what I'm going to find in my stocking?
We'll get through it somehow. But next year, it's back to the old traditions for this family.