I don’t remember how on board my father was with this completely fabricated family tradition of my mother’s, but I do recall my brother and I being slightly skeptical of what seemed like an orchestrated attempt to manufacture a cheesy holiday ritual that would make our family special. But we went along, because going along is something you do for people you love when you know it makes them happy. We knew our mother was going to be completely committed to observing this new holiday tradition, if only to prove she had created a new holiday tradition, but we were unsure how bought in the rest of us would be.
As it turned out, we bought in enough for it to endure. This practice has been a regular part of my nuclear family’s holidays. The four of us did it together every year until 1995, my brother’s last Christmas. After that, the three of us continued, our yearly hopes suddenly shifting away from concrete and tangible achievements at school and jobs to grappling with grief and enjoying our health and family. Then I got married, and in 2001, my spouse joined the ritual, adding her own memories and hopes to the Miles bucket. (Because my spouse is this kind of person, she was delighted at the tradition, at that point a decade old, and is often the one who writes the most each year.)
Last year was our daughter’s fourth Christmas, and we decided she was old enough to join the tradition. She dictated her answers to her mother, who transcribed them and saved them to be read at this past holiday family gathering. This year, she wanted to write them down herself, although her mother insisted it would be faster if she transcribed them for her. (Next year, we told her – first grade will help with the writing skills.)
At the dinner table last night, we agreed as a family to record our “Christmas memories” to be read at the end of the year. Our daughter listed eight or nine gifts as her favorites; we actually had to stop her from recalling every gift she received. She named a few specific instances as her “memories” that focused on Christmas decorations and playing with her new toys.
When it came to her hopes for 2016, she grew silent. This seemed to be a little too abstract for her. We had to flesh out the concept: in the next year, what does she want to have happen? Think of the whole year, we said. The rest of kindergarten, and then the summer, and then starting first grade. What did she look forward to? What did she want to have happen?
After some thought, she said, “I want everyone to have a good year.” Then she added, “And I want to eat lots of candy.”
Two very contrasting hopes: a large, broad, generalized wish of universal altruistic intent; and a very specific, concrete desire for a simple and purely selfish pleasure. We laughed at the spontaneous cuteness of our little girl and wrote down her two wishes anticipating the joy of reading this a year from now.
Cute as it is, I find it to be pretty wise. I can certainly join her in hoping that the year is good for all of us, in whatever ways that might be made real. Health, happiness, prosperity, joy in being together, industriousness in work and study, growth and learning. And that these things be available to all people. My five-year-old sees no need to qualify the goodness available to certain groups of people. Everyone – black and white, young and old, friend and stranger, immigrant and refugee – everyone should have it good.
I can also join her in wanting some particular selfish good all to herself. I am not in any particular need for lots of candy, but bless her little heart for naming something she loves (and no doubt doesn’t get as much as she’d like). She went with something achievable and real – “lots of candy” is not outside the realm of the possible and accessible. Some kids might wish for their own dragon or to go live on the moon. My child hopes for candy. I think this is a wish that, the year’s consumption taken as a whole, she will get. And yet there is still such a simple joy in hoping for something so readily available to her. I’ve found myself wondering, what is my candy? What is something that I want and that I will probably get and yet I still find such delight in receiving? Is it beer? Records? Laughter and love and company?
I do hope that the year is good for you. May we all join together to make this year good for those around us; good in ways that are tangible and durable and meaningful; good in ways that strive for transformation and justice and peace for everyone. But don’t forget to eat some candy along the way. You just might get a lot of it this year.