It’s the day of winter solstice, the longest day of the year, and in a few days, my husband and I will awaken to the excitement of our third granddaughter’s voice as she awakens to Christmas day. My eldest daughter, her partner and child have flown from Toronto to spend the holidays with us in San Diego. We decorated the tree only nights ago, sifting through the boxes of ornaments, some from my childhood and others collected each year of our daughter’s lives until they had families of their own. It’s both tradition and a source of humor that we tell the same stories each year as we hang the ornaments on the tree…but part of our family tradition is to tell those oft-repeated stories every year…at least, every year now, that we manage to share Christmas with one another. With one daughter in Toronto and the other in Okinawa, it’s more often my husband and I who are packing up our suitcases and standing in the long lines at the airport to reach one or the other during the holidays…not the other way around.
Today, I relinquishing the usual time I spent to post my weekly prompt in favor of spending this much too precious time with my daughter and granddaughter…so for this week, I’ve “re-cycled” a post from December 2010 and offer it to you as inspiration for writing during your holidays.
To all of you who follow this blog, I wish you a joyous holiday–filled with the warmth of friends, family, and those traditions that make your holidays unique and memorable.
From December 2010 : Memories of Holidays Past
We received a Christmas card from Germany last week, a greeting from a friend of our daughter’s, reminding us of the Christmas he spent at our house, far from his British family. I realized that it was also the last Christmas holiday that we—my daughters, husband and I—had shared the season together in one place. It was only a year later one daughter called from Beirut to say “Merry Christmas,” and the other traveled east to Florida to meet the man who would become her husband. Our annual holiday celebrations have been changing over the past few years. Sometimes we’ve traveled to spend the holiday with one or the other daughter; at other times, depending on who is living where in the world, one of them has come to us. Now, as they create their own holiday traditions with their spouses and children, we will, as we are doing this year, be joining the throngs crowding the gates at airports, hoping the weather cooperates enough to get us to our destination as planned.
It’s a bittersweet time for me. I don’t enjoy traveling during Christmas, but there’s nothing more joyous that celebrating the holidays with my grandchildren, reading Clement Moore’s “The Night before Christmas,” baking cookies, stuffing the stockings with clever little surprises, and Christmas morning, sharing in the children’s excitement. Yet there’s nostalgia too—memories of Christmases past.
…Always on Christmas night there was music. An uncle played the fiddle, a cousin sang “Cherry Ripe,” and another uncle sang “Drake’s Drum.” It was very warm in the little house. Auntie Hannah, who had got on to the parsnip wine, sang a song about Bleeding Hearts and Death, and then another in which she said her heart was like a Bird’s Nest; and then everybody laughed again; and then I went to bed. Looking through my bedroom window, out into the moonlight and the unending smoke-colored snow, I could see the lights in the windows of all the other houses on our hill and hear the music rising from them up the long, steady falling night. I turned the gas down, I got into bed. I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept.
(From: “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” By Dylan Thomas)
Early this week, as I drove home in the evening, the neighborhood was alive with colored lights and decorations. I pulled into our driveway, awash with memories of long ago Christmas times. I remembered how, as a child, we’d climb into our Ford station wagon every year, driving through all over our small town to admire the display of lights and decorations. I recalled my father’s annual trek into the snowy wilderness to cut the perfect tree, of the bubble lights and themed decorations, packages piled high beneath the branches, and Christmas day, dozens of cousins, aunts and uncles gathered together for the holiday meal, everyone singing carols.
There are other memories too—ones less romantic but every bit a part of our family’s history of Christmas traditions: I had always wanted to be an artist, and once I reached middle school, my mother assigned me the task of painting a Christmas scene in the front picture window, ever hopeful we’d win a prize in the “best Christmas decorations” contest each year. My artwork was colorful but untrained, and I was a little embarrassed to have my efforts on such public display. The year my painting earned an honorable mention only served to reinforce my fear that, despite my desire to be, I wasn’t really an artist.
There was also the tradition of annual disappointment—my mother’s– when we brought home the freshly cut tree—never perfect enough to her liking, followed by the inevitable disagreement over placement of lights, and later, my father’s failed attempts to bring home the “right” present for his critical wife. These things became, although none of us liked them, part of our family’s holiday traditions just as the carols, hanging our stockings or opening gifts on Christmas mornings. They have become part of the stories we tell—and re-tell—every December as we decorate our tree.
As children, we knew there was more to it -
Why some men got drunk on Christmas Eve
Wasn’t explained, nor why we were so often
Near tears nor why the stars came down so close,
Why so much was lost. Those men and women
Who had died in wars started by others,
Did they come that night? Is that why the Christmas
Trembled just before we opened the presents?
There was something about angels. Angels we
Have heard on high Sweetly singing o’er
The plain. The angels were certain. But we could not
Be certain whether our family was worthy tonight.
(From: “A Christmas Poem,” by Robert Bly, in Morning Poems,1998)
Whatever your beliefs or religious practices, holidays are filled with our familial traditions of celebration. Remember the holidays you celebrated as a child or at a particularly significant time. What memories have become part of your family lore? What’s most vivid or poignant? Write about holidays past—traditions you remember fondly or even the ones that you don’t. What are your favorite stories ignited by this holiday season?
Happiest of holidays to you.