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a strange holiday tradition

It was my favorite night of the year. As my mother had me turn off the lights, she lit every single candle we owned and arranged them in our family room. In my mind, it felt like hundreds of tiny flames that patiently waited a full year to come back to life. On a typical night in our house, the TV would have been turned on, my sister and I would be watching our favorite sitcom or doing homework, and there was always constant movement throughout the house. But on this particular night, it was quiet, still, and dark.

My dad would come home with the Chinese takeout and the four of us: my mom, my dad, my big sister, and I would sit on the floor of the candlelit living room on the darkest day of the year and eat heaps of Lo Mein, house fried rice, and crab rangoons. While we ate, my mom or I would read poems and share our good intentions for the new season and new year. It was cheesy and we all knew it. Even though as a teenager I would roll my eyes at another reading of Robert Frost, I secretly loved it. A tradition that belonged to the four of us. Winter solstice represented both an ending and a beginning; the end of darkening days and the beginning of winter.

Our December 21st routine was heavily influenced by my mother. My dad and sister obliged to participate each year, but I felt the magic of the night with my mom. It was a unique day where the energy of our ordinary family room was transformed. Christmas was magic to me, but winter solstice was a different strand of magic. One that I could hold closely and understand better.

It never struck me as odd that we did this until about fourth grade when I realized that other families don’t light all their candles and eat Chinese food on the floor on December 21st.

Time passed, my sister and I grew into busy teenagers with schedules and activities, and obligations tore us away from this tradition. Cheer practice, a band concert, a holiday party. We slowly stopped celebrating this night in the same way.  When we were busy, we’d light a candle when we got home. We’d rationalize it knowing that Christmas was only a few days away. The magic faded from my memory, as most magic does as we grow out of childhood. I all but forgot about our tradition until a few days ago when J and I were talking about holiday traditions and what we would like to create and continue for our family.

In our sparsely furnished first home in Germany, during our first holiday season, we laid down a blanket in our living room, lit all of our candles, and ate leftovers on the floor. Next year we’ll plan ahead and save up for some takeout Lo Mein and crab rangoons. As for other new or old traditions, I have a feeling they’ll happen naturally, slightly changing each year until they’re part of our family story. We won’t forget the magic of solstice, and together we’ll bring a little light into a dark December night.

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