When did you first realize your family was weird?
Last week, I was sitting at Starbucks with an 8th grade girl from my small group, and she said, “So, does your family reallynot do the jingle bell thing?” I quickly racked my brain to try to imagine what kind of “jingle bell thing” she might be referring to. We sing jingle bells. We read the Polar Express. My kids make crafts with jingle bells on them. Uncertain, I asked her, “What jingle bell thing”?
“You know,” she said, “the thing where your parents go outside your window at midnight on Christmas Eve and ring jingle bells so you can hear the reindeer in the sky.”
“No.” I had to confess, my family does not, in fact, “do the jingle bell thing.” She was still recovering from the shock of discovering that none of her friend’s families did this thing that was so central to her experience of Christmas. It was just her weird family.
I love this because I think every family is weird. At least I hope so.
Growing up my family used to make this sound that went along with every hug. It was a kind of three syllable M that went something like, “m.m.m.” Every hug. Every time. You can imagine how I first discovered this isn’t a universal hugging trait.
But I love the weirdness. It’s what makes us family. There are only three people in the world who give me an “m.m.m” hug, and when it happens I know I’m with weird people just like me.
That’s what’s so great about a tradition. It connects you to a tribe of people with whom you have something in common. Maybe you have very little in common other than your traditions.
This holiday season you will be surrounded by clean-faced, well-dressed, happy people smiling at you from the front of well-designed holiday cards. Everything you see will suggest that inside the walls of the houses you pass on the street are dining room tables that look like the cover of a Pottery Barn catalogue. By the end of the week, there will be hundreds of thousands of Instagram posts of fried turkey and perfectly baked pumpkin pies.
But don’t let the pictures fool you. Inside those houses and behind those Instagram photos are weird families doing things that are unique only to them. Don’t buy into the myth that your Thanksgiving needs to conform to an artificial norm, or that your Christmas traditions need to look like everyone else’s.
If you want to give your kids a tribe, make sure you have some crazy traditions that are all your own. So keep the weirdness alive. Remember your family traditions. If you don’t have any, start one. And honestly, the weirder the tradition, the better.
So, what’s your weird tradition?