It’s well known among those who keep track of obscure Christmas traditions (almost no one), that once you do something, anything, in two consecutive years during the holidays, you have started a Christmas tradition which you will then have to maintain for the rest of your days, passing it on to the next generation in the process. It can be something as elaborate as singing Christmas Time’s a-Comin’ backwards, or something as simple yet powerful like giving yourself food poisoning from tainted egg nog. Do it once and it’s a Christmas fluke; do it twice, and a family tradition is born.
I put the call out to various bluegrass artists to let me know what their lesser-known Christmas traditions were, and I got the following responses. All wished to remain anonymous, for fear their family rituals would hereafter be named after them, like The Rhonda Vincent Blindfolded Christmas Bus Decoration Party, or The Ron Block Banjo Strap Snow Dance. Here are the ones I liked the best and which were least likely to result in fatalities:
In my family we spend Christmas Eve eating homemade caramel popcorn from my grandmother’s special recipe, watch A Christmas Carol (Alistair Sim version), then we dim the lights and gather around the Christmas tree while I read the most inappropriate fan emails of the past year.
One year, we were sitting around playing some Christmas songs and I had my capo on the wrong fret for Beautiful Star of Bethlehem, so I was playing it in E flat while everyone else was playing in E. As a reminder of the mistake, I did it again the following year as a joke, and now it just wouldn’t be Christmas if I played it in the same key as everyone else. I also wear a Santa hat while doing this.
Every Christmas Eve, I tuck the kids into bed and read The Night Before Christmas but I change the name of all the reindeer to names of members Bill Monroe’s bands through the years: “On Baker, on Berline, on Stover, on Lyle; on Wiseman, on Willis, on Drumright and Pyle.” The kids have no idea those aren’t the real names of Santa’s reindeer. I plan to tell them when they turn 30.
One year my wife hung a guitar pick earring on the tree. I joined in the following year and hung a banjo capo on the tree. Now each year we hang a musical item that’s a little heavier than the year before. This year I’ll be hanging a Calton Case on the tree. It’s required a specially reinforced steel tree, but it was worth it to maintain this tradition. Next year we may have to flip it around and hang a small tree on an upright bass.
Every year our family band books a really terrible gig for next Christmas that we have no intention of actually playing. Our Christmas season officially starts when we cancel the show for that year. Times were so lean this year, though, that we’ve decided to play it after all. It’s the outdoor New Year’s Eve show at the Dairy Queen in Long Lake, South Dakota. It pays $100 plus free Blizzards (and maybe an actual blizzard). Come on out if you’re free.