Growing up post depression, my family was short on funds for entertainment, and my parents were always looking for inexpensive, simple ways to create family fun. Whether it be picnic lunching in the poppy fields, a day lounging on the beach, or a week-end camping in the mountains, they could always find no- or low-cost ways for us to have a joyous time together.

During a recent visit to the dazzling, nautical Christmas scenes at the IlluminOcean display in the Dana Point Harbor, I was reminded of one of the ways my dad created, not only a joyous and fun time, but how he established an excursion that would eventually became a family Christmas tradition.

Every holiday season mid –December, my dad would bundle us up, back the car out of the driveway and whisk us off to view the holiday decorations and lights in the surrounding neighborhoods. Driving slowly and patiently he gave us plenty of time for viewing. And because music played a big part in our family life (Before TV my dad sang on the radio, then was a performer on Tiny Stowe’s Minstrel Show when TV came into being), while traveling along we sang Christmas Carols in between oohing and ahhing over our neighbors’ holiday displays.

At journey’s end mom was always waiting with warm cups of hot chocolate topped with miniature marshmallows. Then gathering around the Christmas tree we talked, laughed, and continued singing, remembering to remind our parents of the things we hoped to find under the tree on Christmas day.

After marrying and establishing a home of my own, I continued this tradition with my children and grandchildren. And as my dad aged, experienced health issues and became senile – often not knowing where he was or who I was – I soon became the parent driver and he the child.

In December of 1984, we took our last Christmas ride together. Driving slowly through the decorated neighborhoods in San Clemente, we eventually stopped on a hillside above the town to observe the lighted city. Suddenly my dad burst into song. His voice was strong and beautiful just the way I remembered from my childhood. At song’s end he sat silently staring at the lighted city. “Pretty lights … thank you baby,” he said. In that moment he remembered who I was, and a week later he was gone.

Theologians, philosophers and psychologists contend that traditions shape, define and describe us, saying that it is the traditions in our lives that help keep things in balance, providing a sense of security, a knowing of who we are and where we come from. They also purport that time spent practicing traditions is “sacred time,” a time that creates, renews, and preserves us as well as our families.

As I revel in memories of more Christmases past than I care to admit, I am looking forward to the co-mingling of traditions old and new in Christmas celebrations 2014. And as I have done for the last several decades, I will be sure to include an excursion around the streets of San Clemente continuing to enjoy all the decorations and “pretty lights.”


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