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The Vidavers have a holiday tradition that has nothing to do with hanging mistletoe, sending greeting cards or devouring Grandma’s stuffing. It may not even be a very unusual custom these days, but at the time we started it, more than 30 years ago, it was.

We spend our holiday afternoons at the movies. The family ritual started because my husband, a clergyman, had church obligations during holiday seasons, so traveling to see our families living thousands of miles away was not possible.

On the day of the celebration, of course, we did the usual rituals, opening presents while fielding phone calls from around the country: “Merry Christmas! Wish we were closer!” But after the hoopla, there were hours to go before two overstimulated children would finally settle down and go to sleep. What to do?

The first time I remember us trekking to the nearest movie house was on a New Year’s Day when the kids were 6 and 8. Having attended a midnight Watch Service at our church the night before, a nap sounded pretty good to the grown-ups. But our kids beat us down on that one. “It’s a holiday – no naps!” they protested.

So off we went to see “Fantasia.” Looking around, it was like Ralph Wilson Stadium on a bye week. There was one father and his little girl there, and that was the extent of the audience. Evidently, other people had better things to do. I began to feel sorry for myself, missing the camaraderie of family on such a day. But we were soon drawn to the music, color and style of the film and carried away to the land of imagination. We ended up talking about that movie for days around the dinner table.

Ever since, an important part of our preholiday preparation is scouting the movie house schedules, analyzing the movie reviews and taking note of the ratings. We vary the offerings. Sometimes it’s an animated cartoon for the youngest, a chick flick for the girls or an action movie for the guys. I was just happy to be there, content that the whole family was together for one more pleasant memory.

Our 8-year-old granddaughter has now added her voice to our family outings. From our viewpoint, animated cartoons are becoming more sophisticated, designed to be adult-friendly as well as kid-friendly. We’ve also noticed we don’t have the theater to ourselves anymore. It is often filled to overflowing with large audiences.

This past Father’s Day, we took in “Madagascar 3,” an animation that had the added attraction of being in 3-D. Some 3-D movies aren’t worth the bother of putting on the special eyewear. This one was different – you were actually ducking that bright-colored bird careening toward your nose. Transported by the sound of beautiful voices singing beautiful music, many of us didn’t move to leave when the credits started to roll. As the music continued, the audience, including my daughter and her daughter, began to sing, too, everyone enjoying the impromptu karaoke.

Suddenly, a man in the front row jumped out of his seat and began dancing, head bobbing and arms pumping to the beat, the silhouette of this joyful figure magnified on the movie screen. When the credit roll and music ended, the rest of us gave him hearty applause. A celebration of the spirit – what a great way to end the day. Thanksgiving is coming. Grab the Gusto!