Instead of dwelling upon the majesty and holiness of Christmas Day, I’d like to dwell on our personal memories.
But, first – the importance of this day must be recognized. Thank God – literally! – that Mary accepted her role in our salvation and became the mother of our Savior! And thanks, also, for Joseph, who so often gets overlooked, for accepting Mary in her condition and was a God-faithful father for the young man who later would build that bridge between our existence and his, using his blood and a cross as building blocks, mortared with His love.
And eternal gratitude for Jesus, becoming incarnate so that He could lead us all to Heaven. I pray, as always, for the conversion of hearts to Him, that His love will one day fully wrap the world and evil will die.
Now, on to less heavy topics.
My earliest memories of Christmas always start with the smell of coffee and cinnamon rolls. When we smelled those, we’d get up and start the process of rotating 10+ kids through one bathroom. Thankfully, the bathroom was designed with two sinks separated from the toilet/bathtub area, so there could be some grooming going on for those whose mirrors in their bedrooms were occupied, despite whether or not some sibling was taking a shower. The younger of us weren’t too worried about blow drying our hair, so we were usually first at the top of the stairs. We were not allowed downstairs until everyone was ready (a tradition later to be smashed by a sister Not To Be Named). Mom and Dad would sit at the landing, coffee in hand, waiting for everyone to be ready. We younger were known to go banging on doors and encouraging the elder of us to GET A MOVE ON! When everyone was ready, we’d go single file down the stairs to see the results of Santa’s visit. I remember the year we all got bicycles – I’m sure now that Christmas took years to pay off! But, as kids, we didn’t know that and the ooohs and aaahs were plenty. Dad would hand out the gifts one at a time, making sure that all their hard work with buying and wrapping would be more appreciated rather disappear in a flurry of paper in a matter of seconds. This continued as we celebrated Christmas at his house, too, Dad playing Santa Clause and distributing gifts slowly enough that we could enjoy them.
After the loot was found and accounted for, then the neighborhood parade would begin as our neighborhood playmates would meet us outside to compare our newly minted possessions. Somewhere between the opening and parading, we’d all get loaded up in the car and go to mass. The year we girls got go-go boots was a good day to go. Being young girls, we were more proud of the boots than being in mass to worship. Sometimes, we’d go to midnight mass, which meant no interruption of the day. One way or another, though, we’d make it to church.
After my marriage and the birth of my children, we created some of our own traditions. There was a lot more teasing: “I know what you’re getting!” My folks had too many kids for any one-on-one razzing. We had no stairs, but the kids knew to wait for Mom and Dad. They were not allowed to open anything on their own! We didn’t drink coffee then, but we did have cinnamon rolls, though usually from a can and not home made like Mom’s. Presents were opened one at a time, as much as possible. While Dad always insisted on a real tree, any real tree I brought into the house became a fire hazard within days, so early on we went to an artificial tree. (That tree is, at this moment, waiting on my front porch waiting to be picked up and taken to a family who lost their belongings in the Hurricane Harvey flood.) My mother-in-law, upon hearing about the cinnamon roll tradition, began making sticky buns for our Christmas morning breakfast after opening presents. Then we’d go to church. Some years we’d go to mass the night before, but we always made it to church.
As long as Dad was alive, we’d meet at his house for our Christmas dinner: lasagna, Italian sausage, salad, a broccoli/cauliflower dish with Parmesan, fried eggplant, garlic bread, and whatever else was brought. We usually had a sideboard groaning with cookies, cakes, and pies of all description and flavor. The making of the lasagna was a big deal, and it started the day before in a humongous pot that dwarfed Dad’s stove. In the later years, we had to watch the oven where the sausage would be cooked; after a bit, there’d be a small “boom” as some accumulated gas bubble would combust. Yes, we cooked in it. As Dad got on in years, Lovely Daughter and/or I would go to his house on Christmas Eve to begin the laborious process of starting the lasagna sauce. I’d usually go to midnight mass so I could be at Dad’s early the next day.
We’d/I’d be there asap on Christmas morning to assemble the up to 70 pounds of lasagna and begin prepping the eggplant. By noon-ish, other sisters would begin arriving and it was our bonding moment, as we booty-bumped each other out of the way and shared counter space in order to get everything cooked. All the while, young ‘uns would cruise through the kitchen, siblings would come snitch the eggplant on the tray, and we’d stop long enough to greet and hug new arrivals.
After dinner, we’d gather in Dad’s living room, which got smaller every year, and Dad would hand out the presents brought by the family. For a while, the nieces and nephews formed a layer on the floor around Dad, and we, their parents, would stand along the walls. I remember one year almost laughing out loud as their was literally a layer of paper and ribbon floating above the kids’ heads, just like in a cartoon. [Presents are always opened on Christmas Day. None of this Christmas Eve cheating at my house! The anticipation is half the fun, and Santa doesn’t fly out until the 24th anyway.]
After gifts were handed out, we’d socialize some more, and we sisters would again gather in the kitchen, repairing the damage of the massive cooking event and putting Dad’s kitchen back in order. People would feign politeness over taking food home: “Oh, no, I couldn’t. Well, if you insist, I’ll take a plate home.” They’d put together flimsy plates of food to take to their cars. I don’t know how much made it home safely. Fed up with the falseness – we all KNEW we were supposed to take home leftovers – I went to the dollar store and bought a bunch of containers. No more flimsy plates!
Now, there’s this new cycle – my kids are all grown. Since I don’t have their help setting up the big tree, it is going to a home that could use it. I have much smaller trees. My drive to decorate and celebrate all that is Christmas has declined greatly. Without seeing the magic through children’s eyes, it’s not as much fun. Nowadays, I focus on the spirituality of the event. If nearby, the kids (so far) come to my house on Christmas morning. After Dad passed, my siblings and their offspring aren’t so driven to gather on that day. It was getting difficult when Dad was alive, since all my nieces and nephews and their offspring were trying to divvy up the holiday amongst as many as five different households. I’ve moved the gathering to the Saturday after, but it is still difficult to get everyone together. I fear the core Christmas gathering we shared from our childhood is coming to an end. My siblings have their children’s homes to go to, and after that, why make the effort?
It is time for new traditions for us. Hubby and I will have to find a new equilibrium for Christmas and other holidays. Change is constant.
But one thing remains the same. The birth of Jesus is still the reason that all of these traditions came into being, and long after they are gone, He will still be with us. I will always go to worship for Christmas. That doesn’t change.
Merry Christmas to one and all! May your traditions bind you closer to those you love, and may your focus always be on the one who binds us all!