Tradition knows no calendar

Egg Rolls for ChristmasA few hours ago I found myself frying egg rolls. In a garage. While wearing a short sleeve shirt, a feminine looking apron and a set of jangling reindeer antlers. It was below freezing outside, and I was experiencing a man-made front, of sorts, with the heat from the Fry Daddy slamming against the cold of the winter air. I’m surprised I didn’t see clouds forming, or a miniature tornado.

It was Christmas Eve at Kerrie’s parents’ house. Or “Christmas Eve,” I guess – eight days early.

Every year for as long as I’ve been invited Kerrie’s parents have celebrated Christmas Eve in an odd, yet incredibly endearing way – hot sour soup, egg rolls and cream cheese wontons. Homemade, from scratch.

And for the last few years, I’ve been included in the fun, not just as a bystander but as a full combat participant: Honorary Fry Cook. It sounds illustrious, but really it means that once a year I don an apron and stand in a freezing cold garage, drinking beer and frying egg rolls and wantons while the family inside whips them together.

It seems like a dubious job, as if I’m being banished, but in all actuality it affords me a little time to myself – a beacon of quietude in an otherwise bustling family gathering. It allows me to gather my senses while still being a part of it all. The day nearly didn’t occur – a monstrous contingent of Kerrie’s family is descending upon Sioux Falls this Christmas, and a two-day über-event is scheduled over Christmas and Christmas Eve.

Which left no room for egg rolls. Which left all of us – especially Kerrie, who looks forward to the meal unlike any other – incredibly downtrodden.

So we had to reschedule. Egg rolls were coming early. And so was Christmas Eve.

In the past I have been an ardent supporter of celebrating the holidays on the holidays. Thanksgiving is the fourth Thursday in November, birthdays occur on the anniversary of a date of birth – there was little give. I didn’t do this on purpose, it’s just the way things happened. Why separate the holiday from it’s given date when we could make the attempt at visiting every single family member at once?

This meant when Christmas came around, Kerrie and I would rush from home to home – at least three families and one group of friends, if not more – in a marathon of eating and celebrating and exhausting merriment. I always figured this is how it would be. After all, it’s Christmas – and you celebrate Christmas on December 25th. Naturally.

Well, just as naturally, things change. As I’ve grown older I’ve realized what everyone already knew: celebration has no time-line. The holidays are called such because it doesn’t encompass just one day – it’s several, linked together Christmas celebrations, starting from the earliest work party to the last, post-Christmas bargain-induced capper.

So with Sierra in mind, our goal was to spread the Christmas cheer throughout the season, from the beginning of December until the end. Three families, once visited over a 36 hour period, are now neatly spaced, each deserving of their own day and each receiving it. Christmas doesn’t occur just on December 25th anymore – it’s December 22nd, 23rd, 24th and 25th.

And, for us, it was the 16th as well. As I stood shivering, contemplating the warmth of the boiling oil and considering warming my hands by shoving them deep in the Fry Daddy, I also considered the night itself. One form of Christmas Eve, come early. A tradition that couldn’t die simply because the schedule didn’t allow for it. It’s not the time, nor the place. It’s the people, and it’s the experience.

People, of course, are aware of time. We keep schedules, and make appointments, and run our day by the clock – an unfeeling measurement that has no regard for the true cycle of life.

But experience knows no bounds, and can spring from any available date. Which makes the occasion – any occasion, but especially an occasion with such a rich tradition – just as sweet. Regardless of what the calendar says.

This was lovingly handwritten on December 16th, 2007