Silence filled the vehicle, pressing against the windows and leaking out into the cold, dark December night. There was no refuge to be found outside; even the snow had stopped falling. Finding no escape in the shadowless night I turned my attention back into the car and to my family. My father sat gripping the steering wheel, instinctively driving straight, but having no real concept of where he was going. My mother rested her head against her arm, obviously aware of my father’s lack of direction and displeased at his ignoring her advice to head back the way we had come. My little sister sat next to me, her legs curled up underneath her and her eyes closed. She wasn’t asleep, but the appearance of it would be enough to save her from more entreaties to buckle up and lectures on the importance of safety in vehicles. The absence of my older sister was, for the first time, profoundly felt.
Every year since my parents were married, December twenty-third had been the beginning of their holiday festivities. As newlyweds and expectant parents they felt the need to create a sense of tradition and family. Thus the practice of Christmas Light Looking was started, and for the next twenty years nothing, not even blizzards or sickness, could stop them from piling the family into their vehicle, eating at a restaurant that was frequented every Friday, and driving around northern Lorain County observing the seasonally decorated houses. As their family grew from one, to two, and finally to three daughters, the quiet conversations of what Santa Claus would bring in two days were drowned out by the wailing of Christmas carols from the back seat. Any house that possessed even a lit wreath warranted oohs and aahs, and, on the rare occasion that a truly beautiful house was observed, my parents would smile at the sight of three wide-eyed, mouth agape children whose silence was soon shattered by cries of "Did you see that?" and "One day I am going to live in that house."
Even as the years went by and my sisters and I grew more and more disinterested with lights and houses the tradition still continued. The idea of driving around aimlessly was not what motivated us to preserve this tradition. For my sisters and me it was part of Christmas; it was expected like snow and Grandma and Grandpa’s House on Christmas Eve. For my parents it was a way of reaching us beyond the day to day routines and struggles. This silly practice connected the years together, pulling the past into the present. We all knew this, and for these reasons we cherished our quirky family tradition.
These sentiments alone were not strong enough to save our beloved tradition from the tyrant of time. Although there had been jokes about it not being able to continue and laughter over the different ways to accommodate any new members of the family, it was never considered a real possibility that this practice would die anytime soon. Yet, here we were driving down an unknown road, the winter night encompassing us, one family member short.
Her decision not to come seemed like an easy one for her to make. Her reason had been that she wanted to go sledding with friends; this excuse would be unacceptable for missing any family gathering, but using it as a reason to break our tradition seemed almost insane. My younger sister and I tried to reason with my older sister. We attempted to play on how important this was to our parents; I even threatened to force her to go. Nothing worked. She could not be coerced to come with us, to let us live in our world of tradition one year longer.
Her flimsy excuse, it seems, was a mask for the real reason she didn’t want to attend. She understood that our family was changing, being pulled and stretched to fit a new role and purpose. She was the only one to grasp that this tradition was rooted in my parent’s marriage and when it ended the tradition too had to end. The trials and struggles of the last year had demanded a change in the way that our family worked; yet she was the only one brave enough to act on this demand. Despite her valiant effort, the remaining four of us decided to hold true to tradition. There was some spite behind our motivation; we wanted to prove to my older sister that she was wrong, that our tradition could live on. Silence was our reward for such motivations.
As the car continued on cautiously my thoughts rolled through my mind, shifting from memories of the past year to memories of the December twenty-thirds that once were. Without even the sound of the radio to relieve me from my thoughts, I allowed myself to really analyze how my family had changed. I saw for the first time that my sister was right. That period of our lives, where a car ride and Christmas Lights were practical representations of our family unity, had passed. I struggled with this realization like I fought against the growing pains of childhood. The farther we drove, though, the more I came to see the importance of letting go. We had to let our tradition die, let it become a memory. By clinging to it, trying to pull every last sustenance from it, we were only living in a world of illusions. We had tarnished the idea of our tradition by forcing it to live on; perhaps we would have been better letting it die before it became the strained car ride in which I was caught. As realization and acceptance became one, I settled back into my seat, no longer feeling the ominous silence around me. Instead, the quiet of the car wrapped around me, letting me fall into a peaceful sleep.
Valentina Wysocki is a sophomore from Lorain, Ohio, majoring in Political Science and History.