Memories of Christmases Past
We have our traditions, but not too many. Christmas dinner (eve or day) has to have Crab Cakes with remoulade. The rest of the meal is no longer set in stone, but that one item must be on the menu. I didn't realize it, but three or four years in a row now, we've had eggnog pancakes for breakfast and the kids are looking forward to them. (like camping breakfast must be pancakes, according to Chef Jr).
As I watch the traditions and memories in the making, I think back to the things that stand out from my youth. My parents did an amazing job of making the holidays special, even in the years where there wasn't a spare dime to be found. I never lacked for anything and while I never did get the pony, play kitchen, easy bake oven or whatever else I though was the perfect gift, what I DID get was appreciated and enjoyed.
The first year we lived in the house in Merrick, we'd been there for four months. There was a dining room set and a couple of basic chairs, but no furniture. They'd gone broke buying the house (for $42,500!) and the walls were still the same colors that the previous owners had left them (lots of harvest gold, shocking pink in my bedroom and a purple bathroom upstairs!).
Still, the tree was overflowing with gifts. I remember getting a bike and a stuffed Burger King. I thought he was the coolest. The bike was cool-green with an 'apple' seat. Giggles got a tricycle that year that was taller than she was. Somewhere, I've got a picture of her standing next to the behemoth.
The next year, the house didn't look the same. New furniture, the walls were normal colors and we had to bring the picnic table in from outside because there were over 20 people there. Nana and Papa were there, too, which didn't happen all that often. Legacy, her new husband and two kids (13 months and 2 months) were there-the house was full.
The highlight of that year was the Barbie jumbo jet and the Close n Play phonograph. It was given to me with a few 45's: Angie by the Stones, Livin in the City by Stevie Wonder and a Lovin' Spoonful single. That was the last Christmas where my parents were still together.
When I was 8, the Christmases would change. Part of the day would be spent with Dad and we'd get home in the afternoon to have dinner and spend time with the rest of the family. My dad began a new tradition: he took us to a Disney movie at the movie theater the next town over. Until I moved to Maryland, the movie for Christmas thing happened all but a couple of years. Sometimes, it'd be on Christmas Eve.
The year I was 11, we'd had a bitter cold snap and went through oil at a breakneck pace, much faster than usual. It ran out very early Christmas morning. Fortunately, our oil delivery company's emergency line took pity on us and filled the tank sometime around lunch time.
The next year, now that Giggles was almost 9 and I was in junior high, Mom enacted a new tradition. We'd open presents once everyone was there for dinner. This meant waiting until 5 or 6pm to open them. Not a big deal, though-because Giggles and I had another thing we did every year.
Around the corner was a family we called our 'other family'. Dick and Marcella treated us as if we were their own kids. Every Christmas morning, since we'd opened presents at 4am, the rest of the family would go to bed.
Meanwhile, Giggles and I would be all jazzed on that adrenaline rush you only get at the holidays. Around 8am, we'd take the walk around the block and join in the festivities as their daughter opened her presents. Then we'd go to Mass with them. Afterwards, it'd be out with Dad, then back home. You'd think that would wear us out, but it didn't.
One of the Christmases, we begged Mom to ditch her all blue light color theme. It's boring, we all told her. She then went out and bought several strands of C7 and C9 multicolored lights. On the tree they went, along with two blinky blinky strands of colored lights with tiny bulbs. After the holiday was over and the decorations dismantled, we all realized that they lacked something. The blue lights came back and the colored lights earned a new home on the outside of the house.
Somehow, when I was around thirteen, my step dad convinced Mom that it was time to ditch the artificial tree. We got a real tree that year that was about 3.5 feet and very broad. Mom deemed it too short and it ended up atop an end table with a tablecloth on it.
One thing that was constant: we'd always have a friend (or three) who otherwise would be alone joining us for dinner. When I was in high school, this meant my best friend (who was jewish) was encouraged to join us for dinner. It was always cool to have someone other than family around, especially once the liquor started flowing!
Christmas always meant hustle, bustle and controlled chaos in my house. I thought everyone's family had what we did, with everyone finding gifts for everyone else in the family. A friend told me of how they drew one other family member's name out of a hat to buy one present. What was up with that? Don't you want to shower those you love with some token of love and thought?
Remembering all this definitely makes me wonder what the boys will carry in their memories when they've got kids of their own. It's funny, while I remember gifts, the things we did stayed with me more than the gifts I received. Yes, I can tell you about getting those cherished gifts in the banner years. I'd rather share about how lucky I am that I have more to remember than the presents under the tree.
We're on a quest for a holy grail item for the kids. If we succeed, it will be a legendary Christmas for them. However, I'm hoping that not only will they remember that, but all the other trappings that make up the holiday. I suspect they will.