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By Mel White 

Changing holiday traditions and memories

On the Bright Side


December 21, 2019

Holidays are a tough time for some people, for a variety of different reasons, and I have been one of those people. But through the years I’ve actually developed a fondness for finding new ways to celebrate, new traditions to enact, new memories to be made.

For 54 of my years on this planet, I only missed two Christmases with my birth family. Through my high school days my family always managed to have Christmastime with both sets of grandparents and a special day or two with a close aunt and uncle and cousins. As a child, I figured that would go on and on forever.

Then I had to experience Christmas my freshman year in college without Steve, my cousin, who was like a younger brother to me, who died in a car accident in November. The families got together as usual but it was not the same, and it was the first inkling I had that my beloved traditions were not going to be forever.

For many years in college and after I traveled to my parents’ home for the Christmas holidays, and often my parents had moved and we celebrated in a new house, or a new city, or a new state. That’s okay; home was wherever my folks were and our family traditions continued, just in new places.

A couple of times my parents came to my home for Christmas, and that was always another new and exciting way for me to feel all grown up and to make some new kinds of memories. Wherever, however, Christmas with family was a time I looked forward to each year.

Then things started changing again, as things are wont to do. My sister’s place at the family table became empty as she succumbed to an undiagnosed degenerative neurological disorder. That first Christmas without her was difficult. Then my grandmother passed away, and there was another empty place at our table. Grandma had lived with or near my parents for 25 years, ever since my grandfather died, and she was a special part of our holiday celebrations. I missed her then and I miss her still.

Then Mom and I had our first Christmas without Dad – he passed away in July of 2000. It was really hard to be without him, and it was made even harder because Mom had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in August of that year, and I didn’t know if she would live through the holidays. She did, however, and the next year we decided to come up with a new way to celebrate because even though there were so many empty places at our family table, we were very thankful that we had each other, and we had much to celebrate. We went to the coast: Morro Bay for Thanksgiving, Santa Barbara for Christmas. We did the same thing the next year (to Monterey and Morro Bay that time) and both of us loved our “new tradition” of traveling to the coast.

After mom died, there was no one left at my family table but me, which meant some huge changes in holiday celebrations. The first year was the hardest – I found celebrating with someone else’s family was just too different and difficult – and I was happy to spend the day by myself. Then a couple of friends suggested Thanksgiving dinner at Double Tree in Bakersfield, followed by a movie, and that sounded too good to pass up.

It certainly turned out to be, and for many years it became a tradition with friends to go to a double-feature movie of our own making on special days (Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthdays, etc.) – a morning movie, lunch somewhere special, and then an afternoon movie (you know, the holidays are always full of good new movie releases!). More new traditions, more new memories and still one of my favorite ways to spend a holiday.

Things have changed again over the last few years, as friends have passed on and new friends have made a place at their table for me (complete with an afternoon movie of some sort, either on DVD, streamed or back to the theater). Change and loss are hard facts of life, to be sure, but they are not insurmountable, even when it comes to holiday celebrations and traditions.

It’s always a good reminder to me that we are never really as alone as we might feel we are, if we only allow our friends to be there with us; and that holidays can be shared or celebrated in any number of ways, if we only open ourselves up to different possibilities; and that new experiences can make meaningful new memories, if we only think of them not as replacements for the old memories, but as additions to the ones we hold so dear.

Happy Holidays to you, however you may celebrate them.

© Marilda Mel White. Mel White, local writer/photographer and co-owner of Tehachapi Treasure Trove, has been looking on the bright side for various publications since 1996. She welcomes your comments and suggestions for even more new traditions at


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