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Jingle Bells [Dec. 28th, 2012|10:58 am]
Dear Santa,

Um, did you get my Christmas list mixed up with someone else’s? My list wasn’t very long, and I’m certain that “hot flashes” were NOT on it.

THAT made the trip up north pleasant. As did the bumper to bumper traffic from my house to the Connecticut border. Eight hours to make a five hour trip. Eight and a half to make it back home. And that’s sans ice and snow. Clearly I need to develop a different travel strategy – because while I’d certainly endure it to spend the holiday with my family, I’d like to see if I can skip that pain. I can certainly drive for long hours – ten to twelve is where I max out on distance I can drive by myself in one stretch. But that’s DRIVING. This was not driving. This was looking at the back of someone else’s car, going seven to thirty miles an hour, assuming we were moving at all.

My brain can NOT handle that. Bored. BORED. OMG, expletive BORED. When traffic’s moving, I can keep my brain busy with looking at the scenery, with playing mental games around pacing, passing, judging time/distance, checking out other cards, making fun of the people in them. But once I’ve listened to all my CD’s, scanned all the radio stations, cleaned every bit of car I could reach, organized the CD’s by alphabet, eaten everything in the car I could reach, drunk my seventh Diet Mountain Dew….seriously, my whole brain was able to concentrate on GETTING THE expletive OUT OF THE CAR. Moving, moving, moving! Augh. My brain, not fully occupied, is like taking a small fussy child on airplane. Rarely a happy occasion.

So, next year, when I blow off whatever fun things are happening the two weeks before Christmas because in 2013 I really need to get my expletive together, have it all wrapped and packed and hit the road before dawn…know that it’s not because I don’t love you and want to have fun with you, but self-preservation.

Our family is very big on tradition. Well, sort of. In that we gladly steal other people’s traditions and build our own the way a bower bird will steal bright shiny objects to adorn his bower. New England WASPs who eat Hopping John on New Year’s Day for luck. Because we like blackeyed peas and ham, and it’s a great excuse for an easy meal on New Year’s Day.

Our bower for Christmas is the tree. The tree is very important to us all, and if real trees were suddenly impossible to get, I suspect we wouldn’t bother. The smell, the real, the needles everywhere…that’s the point to us. We never developed the tradition of going out and cutting down our own. We have friends who do that, and we gave it a whirl, as we are wont to do, but decided that with the size tree we tended to have, the difficulty far outweighed the joy of tromping through a tree farm and the need to have the whole family along, rather than my father just picking one, already cut, at the entrance of the tree farm.

The family tree has certainly scaled down some – once it was important to have a ginormous tree. If we didn’t have to cut a foot off the top to get it into the house, it wasn’t big enough. As we don’t have tall ceilings, this often resulted in a giant ball of tree, with only a slight gradation to the top. My father has started to get slightly smaller trees, although every year he regrets it and talks about how inadequate this year’s tree is. Which has clearly become a tradition we’ve added to our holiday bower.

Our trees don’t go up until right before Christmas, and they stay up at least through Epiphany. Because I live long distance and have to travel up there, I put my tree up early. I used to wait until the Solstice…and I’d like to go back to that…but found myself completely stressed out, not enjoying the Solstice because I was up until the wee hours decorating, and always had too much still to do. So, I cheat a little and at least get the tree up and lit before then. Although I’ll leave that sucker up until the door slams and all the needles fall off. I haven’t ever made it to February, but I’ve come close.

The most important part of the tree at my parents’ house is that it gets decorated on Christmas Eve. In Germany the whole celebration happens then – parents decorate the tree and surprise the children with tree and presents, sometimes during the day, sometimes waking them up at midnight to open presents. That’s a little labor intensive for my family, so we put our own spin on it. My Dad may put the lights on, but the kids decorate the tree on Christmas Eve. Oh, wait. That’s me. Still. It used to be both my brother and myself and whatever beau I brought along. And Christmas Eve is an open house at my parent’s place, with family friends and neighbors stopping by all day, with whatever extended family is appropriate coming for dinner. Over time, things have shifted – the tree decorating used to go well into the late afternoon, but after a few spectacular…incidents…where I wound up decorating the tree by myself, with an audience of inebriated back seat tree decorators, sitting on the couch, being…directive…while I did all the work. Inevitably, after an hour or so of heckling, I’d respond in a less than hospitable manner, which was Mom’s signal to get out the food before there was violence.

And then there was the tinsel tossing incident, back before we decided that although that was a long-standing family tradition it was environmentally unsound and we never could get it all off the tree, and since we always dragged the tree out to the woods to serve as a weatherbreak for birds and small animals, we finally stopped. Although the tinsel tossing might have helped expedite that decision. I’d been schooled by my German grandmother in proper tinsel application – three strands at a time, draped carefully over just the very edge of the branches. And it was a painstaking process…and apparently inflammatory to some of the over-served observers. Because one year, two of them got it into their heads that putting on the tinsel was taking too long, so they started grabbing handfuls and tossing them randomly onto the tree. Seriously, a brawl ensued. My mother and I lost our collective nuts, and almost broke pretty much every hostessing rule in the book, and thankfully were stopped just in time before violating the final rule: One should never grab one’s guests by the hair and yank it out. But we came close.

So, tinsel was phased out, and the tree decorating moved earlier in the day, to avoid unhelpful bystanders. And I’m honestly not sure why I’m still the person decorating the tree. My brother’s got two teenagers now, surely they should be….but not so much. I got a little mouthy about that this year, that really it was time for the kids to step up…and I heard my father’s heart break a little. So, I think I’ll just suck it up for a few more years.

We always do a buffet, and adopted the Italian tradition of pasta, serving lasagna, and back when there were more carnivores at the table, ham. We pondered the seven fishes tradition, but gave that a miss – the beauty of the lasagna was that it let my mother off the hook for making all sorts of food, because she helps decorate the tree and is busy making snacks for the next day. We do sit down to table, because that’s when we finally exercise the English tradition: Christmas crackers. At the end of the meal, crackers are popped, paper crowns put on, and after laughing at really bad British jokes, we tuck into dessert and then a board game, usually some version of Trivial Pursuit, as it’s low on rules and needing to be able to reach a board.

No gifts go out under the tree on Christmas Eve – that’s how we still hang onto the great Germanic surprise. Although we give a nod to that tradition and each child gets one gift to open. Sometimes more than one, but it’s always the same gift – an ornament. Every year, children in the family get at least one Christmas tree ornament, with their initials and the year painted on the bottom. That way, when they’re ready to start their own home and their own tree, they already have a good start. We don’t decorate the tree to a theme, or a color scheme…all the ornaments mean something, from the paper Santa Claus my father made in third grade, to the Playboy Bunny ornament my aunt made out of a clothespin, to the decorated eggshells of my grandmother, and Danish flags of my grandfather. The china Dopey, my other grandmother’s favorite dwarf, the feather swan I made in third grade, and ornaments picked up on vacation or to commemorate some special thing/event. The kids look for the pickle and then they’re off to their own house for the evening.

My family goes overboard, and when the kids were small, heck, when I was small, it was always magical to go to bed with an empty tree and wake up with this giant, brightly colored bonanza of boxes. As I got older and graduated to being the person who helps my Dad haul all the gifts upstairs from where they’ve been hiding in the basement, it’s been a treat to see my nieces’ eyes go wide as they come into the house, after having early Christmas morning at their house. Now that they’re teenagers, and their arrival time has slid later and later, the pile’s grown a little bit smaller, their delight a little more jaded, but we’ll just circle in adult mode until there are new babies to delight…or not. There are joys at being able to sleep in late, open presents slowly, thoughtfully, carefully.

When we were small, Christmas afternoon was another big dinner, more formal, our immediate family, plus whatever stray family friends we could round up. More Christmas crackers, more laughing, more board games. Now, we have my brother’s family for the day, and they move on to have dinner with his wife’s family, and if there are strays in town, we’ll have a formalish dinner. If not, it’s just a quiet dinner with my folks and myself, which has its own quiet merits.

[User Picture]From: russell_moore
2012-12-28 04:09 pm (UTC)
thanks for this ... it allowed me to reflect on how my family Christmas traditions once were ... and how it was usually the most simple things that were most comforting

like as kids all in a circle, hot chocolate in hand, to listen to my aunt Martha tell the yearly Christmas story, and how we all enjoyed how animated a story teller she was

or as a teen, graduating to the adult table for Christmas dinner

but, time moves on ... people come and go ... new traditions get created ... or not

may you have a warm wonderful Happy New Year, not just on January 1st, but for all of the 364 days that follow it as well
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