Traditions can be built on anything. An activity, a person, a thing or any combination, big or small. Traditions usually become traditions because we repeat what we like. Something comforting, happy, fun. Something to look forward to. Something to rely upon. Traditions can be silly or serious or anything in between. As long as the keepers of the traditions stay true, traditions abide.
But what happens when reality intrudes? Family members move away, Life challenges intervene. Can a beloved tradition survive? Does it necessarily have to break and fade, or can it morph, bend like an old willow to meet a new wind? I say yes, it can. In fact, I know it!
One of my favorite family traditions was "The Box". A gift box. I don't know exactly where it came from, or even when for that matter. It just seemed to appear one December. But that's how these things get started you know. Family traditions. Something happens once, then again. Pretty soon you have no idea who started it or why. It's now just a tradition. A thing that must happen every year, or else. What the "or else" is no one really knows either, but you don't want to find out. It may just involve Aunt Myrtle's fruitcake.
I believe The Box made its debut sometime in the 60's. The psychedelic graphics and bright "Warholesque" color scheme certainly suggest it. It was definitely in the house by the early 70's as documented in some blurry family pictures. Maybe mom unknowingly bought it at a drugstore, stuck in a 10 pack of multi-size boxes along with a 500 foot roll of Holiday paper. Plausible. Except it looks nothing like a Christmas box and we only really bought such supplies at the holidays since we were rabid re-users. Birthday gifts in spring and summer could well be stuffed in boxes covered in poinsettias or the Ho-Ho man himself. We weren't too particular. (another family tradition?).
Back to The Box. While it never seemed to have evil intent, like one of those freaky dolls in a horror flick that won't leave the house, it did keep popping-up year after year, but only in December. It was an annual race to the gift wrapping supplies (kept under the stairs) as whoever got there first got to use it, but you didn't want anyone else to know. I swear my brother snuck down in the middle of the night sometimes, but even mom and dad got into the spirit. The Box was incredibly durable, and seemed to last an awfully long time. Much longer than the normal cardboard box. Almost as if it was magic, or maybe even an "in-animagus" (okay, that was really bad-cue the Harry Potter theme).
A Blended Holiday
Now, as a point of clarification, just because The Box was enclosed in Christmas paper didn't mean it was actually given on Christmas. We also celebrated Hanukkah ( a blended household) as well as my Dad's birthday in close proximity. In fact, I don't think my poor dad, born on Christmas Eve, ever had a gift actually encased in birthday paper. We just wrapped all his gifts in the Holiday stuff and then gave half for his birthday. Sorry Pops. To his credit, he always shrugged, smiled, and said thank you.
Back to The Box, again. It became a game. Who has The Box this year? Year after year, The Box appeared, sometimes stuffed with sweaters or shirts or calendars or puzzles or sometimes just a candy cane to fool the recipient (my family had a sense of humor). It was a fun moment when someone would finally tear off the paper to see the wild graphics. The "winner" got an extra helping of Dad's infamous chocolate chip (or blueberry) pancakes!
Though seemingly immortal, The Box did age. As it weakened from being bent, stuffed, taped, and contorted too many times, the tradition changed a bit. The recipient became the "keeper" of The Box for the year. The keeper was responsible for safely storing The Box then passing it onto the next recipient. It was a sacred task. At least the old thing didn't risk getting mauled any more from being stuffed under the steps. As we all moved away, The Box moved with the keeper, reaching its next recipient sometimes through the mail. It became a very well traveled box and still an amusing time when revealed every year, even just over the telephone.
Lost and Found
But at some point, The Box "disappeared" from our familial radar. Life intervened and it faded from conscious awareness. It wasn't until the late '00's or early '10's that I noted its absence. By then, I lived several states away and had for quite awhile. Dad had long passed and Mom had sold the old family house and gone north to be with some of the grandkids. The siblings too had moved in various directions. The Box could have been the victim of any of those upheavals. I had, rather shamefully, lost track of the last keeper. For all the smiles and laughter The Box brought growing-up, it deserved a better end than the one I feared it had received, an unceremonious dump into a trash heap. I thought it was lost forever.
Luckily, I was wrong.
Just a few years ago, on a visit west to the family, one of my brothers surprised me. After his last move, when he'd finally been able to go through the items left in an old storage unit, he found it. The Box. Tattered and torn, faded and worn, it still existed. He'd even gone a step further. The beleaguered box, half a century old, was in no shape to be used again. But that didn't mean it was useless. My brother had flattened the top and bottom and had them professionally framed. For my present that year, I got one half of the box and he kept the other. The Box now had two permanent keepers!
Over fifty years ago, the tradition of The Box brought the family together with laughter and smiles. Life got in the way, but the tradition of The Box has bent like the willow. While the manner has changed, the real meaning, the real tradition, hasn't. It still brings smiles and warm memories now to two households, not just one.
My half of The Box hangs above my computer where I see it several times a day. It's like one of those rare old friends who you might not talk to or see for long stretches at a time, but when you do, the friendship goes right back to where it was, comforting and true. The Box is home, never to wander again.