My memory is trimmed with Christmases at my grandparent’s home. Traditions wrapped in love mound under the tree.
The holiday feast I helped Grandmother cook adorned the shiny, oval, cherry wood table, including extra table leaves, groaning under the weight of food to the sound of the whir of a lazy susan—as if we needed to make it any easier to pile high the bounty.
I remember instant mashed potatoes and the bright, cherry-red cranberry-orange relish that I keep as tradition to this day. I remember butter-yellow orange slice cake. The feel of sore hands seemingly forever chopping sticky orange slice candy is soon forgotten behind a sweet, melting mouthful.
The family’s bustle is a Christmas melody. Grandmother is clanging in the kitchen, to which I add my own noise soon as I learn to cook. Grandfather was paralyzed on one side, but none of his intellect was paralyzed. I might be clear on the other side of the house with several walls between, and he heard any one cough. If he heard it, he would come, signing–pointing with twined fingers which meant no argument against sliding a spoonful of honey in my mouth. It was the sweetest of all medicines. Then, there were my parents and a sister I forever argued with, but forever defended from outside threat.
My uncles, too, were there and always great fun. They let me thump drums with their band! Okay, so maybe I was never tour-ready, but I thrilled, being a part of their grown-up band for even a few moments. Only time would make me realize what I always knew. Your respect and value of me as my own person was a warm blanket around my soul.
After dinner, before a crackling fire, my sister and I unwrapped gifts. I have no clue what anybody else got, I was so focused on mine. I remember mounds of bright red and green from the imaginary Ho! Ho! Ho! and my parents. Besides the magical twinkle of my Rainbow Brite—a doll I really wanted because she was rainbow colorful and she called to me from cartoons and ads—and besides my mother’s violin, which saw many years of bowing, I don’t remember my parents’ Christmas gifts to me.
In fact, all those mounds of boxes of every shape and size under tinsel-laced trees were never near as fun and memorable as two gifts I received from my uncles. Cue Jeopardy theme. Guess! They aren’t exactly most kid’s dream presents. BUT… I … LOVED my huge red stocking overflowing with fruit! Do I remember a prickly pineapple alongside shiny apple, a juicy orange, and other treats? I bet you don’t see how enthralled I was with such a gift.
Guess the other wonderful gift. They weren’t pigs. They were Snoopy and Garfield, and those huge, heavy banks jangled with twinkling coins, almost overflowing the top. I wonder how those banks came to be full. Did my uncles get rolls of coins from the bank, sitting down some afternoon to unwrap them all? Or was it by the ticking of the clock over days, weeks, or months? You didn’t guess, did you?
My uncle’s gifts may seem tawdry by then or now’s standards. How can they compete against the Atari game system and the Rainbow Brite doll of then and the play stations and hatchimals of now? My uncles knew me well enough to know that a stocking full of fruit, much of which we didn’t have at home, and a bank full of coins, that took time and effort, were the perfect gifts for me. My uncles’ gifts were great for their love and care—the best gift of all.
Those good times are shining lights strung round glorious green.
Now Christmases are quite different. I make Christmas what I want alone in my own home, for that family that fed around the cherry table is gone or moved onto their own family dinners and scattered to distant states. My grandparents tied us together.
I tried until this year to avoid the commercialism of the season as much as possible by not buying people Christmas gifts on Black Friday, or any other day of December for that matter. I try to avoid the haunting of Christmas from Halloween through Black Friday, annoyed by the cheapness of hearing and seeing Christmas far too much too long too soon.
Operation Christmas begins Black Friday with decorating my home and caroling along with seasonal music from my iTunes playlist. Almost every year, with love and care, I make Christmas gifts, such as rich, creamy fudge, orange-cranberry oatmeal dunked in white chocolate cookies, audio recordings of Christmas memories, or ornaments. I always send the loveliest Christmas cards that I can obtain after each previous Christmas—the nicest cards for the best price.
Even my cat, Ricochet, tumbles into the act of Christmas as I pull out his special Christmas toys that he excitedly runs around, tossing in the air, like a gleeful child. I chase him away from the faux greenery he wants to chew. One year I took a picture of him sitting in the middle of my sparkling red, gold, and green wreath. That year he was my Christmas card.
I am very traditional in some ways, such as all the cooking reminiscent of Christmases at my grandparents’ home. I spend the day before Christmas cooking a turkey breast, Stove Top stuffing, cranberry-orange relish, sweet potato casserole, and green bean casserole, and buying the pumpkin pie, I used to make. Last year, I splurged on canned cinnamon rolls with butter cream frosting and whipped up a scrambled omelet with fresno peppers, bella mushrooms, and cheddar cheese for breakfast.
As for Christmas day, it is the truest holiday for me in the year—a day when I free myself from all my and other’s routines and rituals. I stay home, relaxing all day in comfy pajamas, sprawled on my bed with Ricochet beside me, watching Christmas movies that are part of my Amazon video library, and eating whenever whatever god awful and lovely treats given to or made by me.
I look forward every year to my aunt’s package of Christmas delights, waiting until Christmas day to open it and be reminded of my aunt’s love and care in choosing gifts for me. It, too, is reminiscent—it is of the same love and care that my uncles showed. I hope I show that spirit of tradition.
Maybe through time, circumstance, and distance, the best tradition of my family survives—gifts of love.