Christmas is all about ritual. That's what makes it so difficult when we leave home and prepare to celebrate the holiday on our own terms. What to keep, what to discard; what will our rituals be — from decor to dining to religious services. Often we don't even know we are creating new personal riturals until a few years down the road when we can look back and begin to discern a pattern.
When I was fresh out of college, my roommate and I put up a tree and decided to have a party. For that event, I bought a whimsical carved wooden gnome nutcracker which we set out with a big bowl of nuts in the shell. My mom had a specific red bowl — brought out for the holidays — that always held unshelled nuts, which is obviously where that idea came from. It's a rare year that I don't have that nutcracker out, sitting on top of a mound of nuts. That little guy says Christmas to me and helps me carry on a bit of family tradition.
While my roommate and I were shopping for that same party lo those many years ago, I also bought two hot new albums that had just come out: Judy Collins' "Whales and Nightingales" and George Harrison's triple album, "All Things Must Pass." Because I got them at Christmas and played them incessantly, they became "Christmas music" for me. I always bring them out and play them now — and rarely listen to them any other time during the year. I have a feeling I'm not the only one who has a favorite Christmas album that has nothing to do with Christmas — and everything to do with memories!