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Keeping the holiday celebrations traditional


THE GUIDELINES FOR expected family behavior during the holidays are being issued by our household's hidebound traditionalists.

The roast turkey must be presented for applause, as a whole, before it is sliced.

There must be chocolate mousse for dessert on Christmas Eve.

The guests at the holiday dinner should be relatives.

The main holiday meal must be served in the dining room, with a tablecloth, with candles.

As a confirmed fogey, I agree with most of these strait-laced dictates. But in our house, I am not the only one who is espousing them.

The calls for doing things the same old way also are coming from the kids.

I don't think our offspring, two teen-age boys, are unusual in this regard. In my experience, kids can be the strongest supporters of holiday traditions.

Parents who have tried to change their family's holiday rituals, sometimes knowingly, sometimes not, have heard howls of protest from the younger generation. Some of the loudest howlers, I am told, are sons and daughters who come home from college.

The college kids might be full of ideas on how to rewire the universe, but regard the family's holiday rituals as sacrosanct.

Their attitude seems to be, you can change the world but you don't change the domestic holiday routine.

The trick for parents is to find out, before it is too late, the holiday foods and rituals that their kids regard as sacred. Usually, you find out only after you have done something wrong.

This year, for instance, it was not until after the lengthy Thanksgiving meal had been consumed that one of our kids told us the feast had been lacking.

We had enjoyed three desserts - a pumpkin cheesecake, a pumpkin pie and mince pie. But, in the kid's view, it just wasn't Thanksgiving without an apple pie.

Moreover, the kids told us they thought it was "weird" that we had invited friends from the neighborhood to join us for the Thanksgiving meal.

On Thanksgiving, you are supposed to eat with relatives, not neighbors, the kids said. In prior years, they recalled that when our family had celebrated the feast in Kansas City and Boston, the gatherings had been wall-to-wall with cousins.

Fortunately, this year, I also was able to import some cousins to Baltimore from Virginia for the Thanksgiving meal. The presence of kin-folk at the table seemed to squash any outbreaks of xenophobia. Since the relatives outnumbered the neighbors five to three, the day went without incident.

In preparation for Christmas, I have been quizzing members of my family, asking them to list the dishes and practices they regard as essential components of the holiday.

To my dismay, none of the respondents has mentioned my favorites: eggnog, fruitcake and tangerines. And I appear to be the only family member who regards popping popcorn and stringing it on the tree as vital.

To their dismay, the kids have learned that when they announce that a dish is indispensable they have talked themselves into a job.

Last year, when one of the kids told his time-strapped mom that it wouldn't be Christmas without homemade cookies, she quickly cut a deal. She would make cookies if he helped. He ended up spending three hours in the kitchen.

I am curious to see if this year the kid still hungers for a tradition he has to work to preserve.

Pub Date: 12/20/98

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