When I was 17, I visited my friend Helen on Christmas afternoon. Her family was always kind and gracious, but also very different from my own. Going to her house was like an anthropological mission to see how others celebrated the holidays. When I learned that her family ate fish for Christmas dinner, you could have knocked me over with a feather. To me, that was just plum crazy, but it also taught me that different traditions could be equally meaningful.
As far as traditions go, my family has tried to mix things up over the years. When my niece was old enough, we started making cookies together for the holidays. At some point, we convinced our dad to let us open gifts on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas Day. One year, we attempted to introduce an ill-fated tradition of building gingerbread houses. That didn’t last more than one season. Most of my family holiday traditions involve food, part and parcel of growing up Southern. On December 25, I will eat the exact same meal I have eaten for 43 Christmases, and it’s suspiciously similar to the Thanksgiving meal.
Whatever your family traditions may be, don’t forget about Omaha Public Library as a great source for ideas, inspiration and nostalgia. Put a spin on the annual Jell-O salad (or whatever your family enjoys) by checking out the library’s amazing collection of cookbooks. Find fun, new recipes and prepare a fantastic feast. Set a festive mood by downloading some holiday tunes from Freegal, or perhaps borrow a Mannheim Steamroller CD. If you can’t seem to catch your favorite classic holiday films and TV shows, check them out on DVD and you won’t have to worry about missing “A Charlie Brown Christmas” or “It’s A Wonderful Life.” If you want to watch a really great Christmas show, check out “Emmet Otter’s Jug-band Christmas.” I watched that movie with my grandmother every year when she came to visit us in Florida. It was our second favorite film after “The Great Santa Claus Switch,” which sadly never made it to DVD. Of course, the library also has many holiday stories and tales to curl up with in a stolen moment of solitude or to read aloud together as a family. Find everything from “Twas the Night Before Christmas” to “Fancy Nancy’s Splendiferous Christmas.”
Enjoy your holidays and all the memories they bring. On behalf of all of us at the library, we wish you a belated Happy Hanukkah (or Thanksgivukkah), a Merry Christmas, Joyous Kwanzaa, and best wishes for a wonderful New Year!
Gary Wasdin is the executive director of the Omaha Public Library.