This time of year is all about traditions. You can ask just about anyone and they will happily tell you about their holiday traditions and all of the fond memories they have surrounding said traditions. It doesn't matter which of the plethora of holidays you are (or aren't) celebrating, it is still a season of celebration and with that comes traditions.
Growing up I can remember a tradition of making gumbo on Christmas Eve. Our big dinner was always on Christmas day, so the night before was much more casual. A meal that could be cooked started early and mostly ignored for the rest of the day until it was time to eat was ideal. My grandmother had a recipe she learned from some little old Cajun woman in Lake Charles when my grandfather was stationed there. Her gumbo was sort of a big deal (or so I am told because I never ate it as it had seafood in it and I don't eat seafood).
There was one year that we all awoke Christmas morning to the great Freezer Gumbo Tragedy. Late Christmas Eve my mom and aunts had ladled the left over gumbo into gallon sized ziplock bags. The bags were then taken and placed in the large 6ft standing freezer in the garage. It wasn't until the next morning that we discovered that the stacked bags of gumbo (on the top shelf might I add) had burst open from having been stacked one on top of the other. The gumbo had oozed down through all the other shelves, covering all the other food, and then puddling on the floor of the freezer and began to freeze.
There are pictures somewhere of my mom and my aunts cleaning the gumbo out of the freezer. They found it much more amusing than my grandmother did. I can remember them all giggling about it even as they cleaned. Everyone swore we would never get all of the gumbo out.
That freezer is still in the garage. A few years back (probably 20 years or more since that happened) the motor on the freezer began to go out. My grandmother had someone come out to fix it. When the technician pulled the freezer out from the wall there were still some old rock hard shrimp underneath.
Now that I am grown up I never really get to make it home for Christmas. I live 5 hours away from my family so it is not exactly a quick trip. There are always issues of getting time off for both myself and the husbeast, and then the issue of whether or not we can actually afford the trip. Normally we make it down to celebrate a weekend or two after Christmas actually occurs.
Still, just because I am not home does not mean I can't have a little tradition. For the last four years at least we have had gumbo as part of our pre-Christmas tradition. In my household we do our big dinner on Christmas Eve so there is no gumbo that night. The days preceding Christmas Eve are fair game. My very Cajun husbeast happily makes a giant pot of gumbo (chicken and sausage only so I can enjoy it too) for everyone to enjoy as we prepare for the big day.
The other tradition that stands out in my mind from Christmas as a child was the potato clock. Yes you read that right; potato clock. I am certain that it started out as a joke. One year someone (probably my Uncle Bob knowing him) gave someone else a potato clock. I have no real idea why anyone would give anyone a potato clock, but it happened.
The next year someone else got the same potato clock as a regifted present. That potato clock was thereafter passed between family members for years. Some years it would not show up. Sometimes it would be a few years before it made its way back under the tree. Eventually though it would show up and we would all laugh at its reappearance.
I am not certain anyone ever opened the box to see if there really was a potato clock in the box. I have to assume if there was another gift inside someone would have made mention of it. Then again they might simply have been waiting for someone to open it up and find the real prize within. I don't really think it matters. I think the smiles and laughter that accompanied it were enough of a gift.
Traditions are important. Whether it is a family dish, a novelty toy, or a movie that must be watched, everyone has something that helps make the holidays. They are the things that years later we can look back on and smile fondly. They are the things we remember and have great strength and power to them.
They are things that will always make you smile and laugh and will make other people wonder why an ancient shrimp under the freezer is so damn hilarious.