I used to love Christmas…I really did. But, now? Not so much. Okay, well sorta, but it’s bittersweet.
Not that I’m all bah-humbuggy…it’s not that. It’s just that the kid is grown, I’ve gotten older, no grandkids yet, and the adults who used to make the Christmases of my childhood magical have all gone on to the next adventure. And, to be honest, I feel their loss immensely.
There’s just something about cooking my maternal grandmother’s stuffing, or my paternal grandmother’s hollandaise that opens that hole in my heart and magnifies their absence. And it’s funny, these two strong, vibrant women loathed each other—a lifelong remnant of some perceived slight when my parents married. So, we did Christmas Eve with my mom’s family and Christmas morning with my father’s. Each had it’s own rhythm and created it’s own memories.
My mother’s mother stood barley five feet, on tiptoes, yet she commanded any room she walked into. Personality oozed out of her like nectar out of Honeysuckle in the summer. A party girl to her core, she especially loved costume parties. Her favorite costume was a Carmen Miranda getup that included about four feet of fruit stacked on her head. However her Geisha outfit, replete with white face and a skirt so limiting it took her forever to totter her way into the party, continues to be at the top of my personal favorites list. So, when I tell you Christmas was her most favorite party of all, you can imagine the kinds of magic she created.
Of course she had a Mrs. Clause outfit, and I think something reminiscent of an Elf, but I don’t recall. I do remember that she made everything, from cooking to decorating—including an entire room dedicated to wrapping the presents—a production, usually accompanied by an appropriate Bing Crosby soundtrack. Decorating the tree was a family affair. She had one-of-a-kind decorations that spun and sputtered and twirled when close to the lights (which put off enough heat to keep the fire department on call). Her tree usually had to be shoehorned into the room with the 20-foot ceilings—and still there wasn’t enough room for all the special ornaments. While stuffing ourselves on her sand tarts or merengue cookies, we’d argue and bicker over where each one should be placed.
And the cooking! I can’t remember how many ovens she had, but we used every one, trashing the kitchen in the process. The kids all got to cook—and nothing was ever treated as less than perfect, not even cranberry jelly that didn’t gel, thanks to your truly. It was my special gift.
When the feast was served, the adults all sat in the dining room while the kids were relegated to the breakfast room, where food fights could be easily cleaned up. Once, I was deemed old enough to sit with the adults. I lasted all of five minutes, then I beat feet back to the kid’s table… where I still sit. I’ll have you know, I can still take a spoonful of mashed potatoes and flick it so that it sticks to the ceiling—one of my better skills.
My father’s mother handled Christmas a bit differently—she used to play the ukulele. She could play music by ear but, of course, she didn’t really know any Christmas tunes. No, Harry Belafonte had a special place in her heart (pretty brazen for a Southern woman in the 1960’s). So, this statuesque, gorgeous, female pied piper in her Mary Tyler Moore capris would lead us kids in a conga line, dancing to Yellow Bird , Day O, Matilda, or Jamaica Farewell. I still get a tear in my eye and a smile on my face when I hear those tunes–Yellow Bird is my personal favorite. After that, we would fight over the crispy turkey skin—she always saved some for me (I was her favorite.) And you know what, there is nothing like knowing my place in her heart. Of course each of my cousins might disagree, believing they were my grandmother’s favorite—and that was her special gift.
Now I’m the adult expected to provide the magic. I have large shoes to fill. And hopefully, when grandkids do arrive, they will have special memories of their Christmases, too.
But, I’m really feeling the pressure.
As you become the keeper of the holiday traditions, how do you handle it?