Christmas this year was a two-day celebration of giggles, cries of surprise, gift-wrap flying and for me at least a bit of nostalgia, a sense of melancholy even. I am uncertain why it was so poignant this year, why I felt so off centered and incomplete, but this year was off for me. This year I felt slightly disconnected from those I love, from the celebrations, from well from all of it. For some reason this year, despite being in the middle of it all for two days I simply felt isolated.
I admit there have been things on my mind. There have been some additional stresses in my life lately that have been weighing heavily on me and causing me some anxiousness; usually this wouldn’t change the pleasure I take in my family, especially my children and grandchildren. I can’t say I didn’t enjoy them either, truly, I did, my grandchildren are a treat and though it is a bit overwhelming now and then, I am fortunate in the women my sons married and the extended families they brought with them. We are the true American family, extended and expanded through multiple marriages. What makes us a bit different I suspect, is we have managed to keep ex’s close and engaged, thus children continue to benefit. Yes, this sometimes makes it strange, but it works.
But back to the strange sense of sitting above it all watching rather than participating this year. Maybe it was simply so many of the traditions I grew up with were absent and I finally noticed, finally really missed them. Perhaps, it was the rest of my family was missing; all of my siblings some of whom I haven’t seen since my father passed away five years ago, my wonderful heart mother having passed only ten months earlier. With their passing, something went out of us all I think and we set aside some of the traditions we had all made fun of but in truth had cherished. Certainly one thing we lost was our sense of family, our bond. Even while still mourning my beloved parents, I mourn that loss just as much I think.
My cousin / siblings, don’t blink your eyes so quickly I am after all from Texas we do things strangely down here. Yes, my father married his sister-in-law and no it isn’t incest (my brother asked). It was a match of the heart, a true love match after they had both been single for many years, her after being widowed and him after divorcing my mother. They had known each other for more years than they had been married and divorced combined. We all cheered their marriage and they brought us together as adults and created a large and loving family, though perhaps a bit on the odd side sometimes. We were a loud, loving and rambunctious clan. My heart mother welcomed all of us, along with spouses, children, step-children, partners and friends to Hearts Home with open arms. But Christmas time was the best time of all.
Christmas Eve, where we all dressed up in our finery. The women in satin, velvet and lace with make-up and hair done and high-heeled shoes. The men in suits and ties, if you had to wear jeans they had to be your Sunday-go-to-Meeting best. Children were even put in nice clothing for the evening. The Christmas Eve meal of so damned much food and so many types of cookies and candies, all of them homemade with love. The most important parts of the evening, the Eggnog toast, where each of us made a toast that we spent days thinking about and some man in the family always toasted the women in the family and all the other men groaned because that was going to be their toast. The reading of the Christ Story by my heart mother and the youngest grandchild and finally the singing of the carols which always ended with Jingle Bells, always and we all had bells on ribbons which we rattled at appropriate times.
I should add here, most of my family could not sing a lick. The singing of the carols was like fingernails on a chalkboard to even the most untrained ear, but it was tradition and it was fun. We all groaned, we all whined, but we all did it and we all had fun.
Gift giving was a managed affair, of course, we spoiled slightly any children but we did not exchange gifts between adults. There was an assigned name; you bought one gift outside of your spouse or significant other. Your gift could not exceed $50. Then we had the White Elephant gift market, all children under 18 left the room and the ruthlessness of the adults came out. This was a terrible and hysterical part of the night. Draw a number, pick a gift and open it. Better hope you got a high number, or your spouse got a high number. The higher your number the better your chances of getting something you want out of the pile of gifts in the middle of the floor. During each round, each gift can only be exchanged one time, so once you open your gift look around the room at the other gifts that have been opened, want something else? Take it and give them what you have, they then look around to see what else has been opened; if they want something else (other than what you just took from them) they do the same. It is a ruthless game! There were always some really good gifts and some really stupid gifts. We had such fun.
At the end of the night, we played games. Usually board games until we were tired. Though sometimes we played billiards and sometimes cards. Adults in one part of the house and young ones in another.
Christmas day was more relaxed though we had the morning presents for the children under the tree and the big family dinner in the afternoon. It was always Christmas Eve that was special for me. It was always that night that set the tone. I loved Christmas day because we were all together, comfortable and talking, playing games and spending time. But it was Christmas Eve that held so many traditions, even before Hearts Home, even as a child some of these traditions were already part of how I thought of Christmas.
I suppose as new generations take over the celebrations they create their own traditions. This year I think I just missed the old ones.