Maybe I’ve been navel-gazing too much lately. It’s the holiday season, the end of the year, and the coming of winter, and I’ve been thinking a lot about stuff.
What kind of stuff?
Well, since you asked, my mind has been wandering through nostalgic memories of Christmases past.
For most of my childhood and adolescent years, my brother welcomed our big family on Christmas Eve for the annual party. My sister-in-law was a talented and gracious hostess to our large brood, and we always looked forward to the traditions of that night.
We’d all file in and settle into the living room, perching on chairs or whatever horizontal surface was available. The house would be filled to the gills with us. Once the chicken wings and macaroni came out of the oven, we’d make a beeline to the fabulous buffet that always included a variety of tempting desserts, and of course we always ate too much.
My favorite part of the night was the singing. Out would come the caroling song books (handy, especially when singing the third and fourth verses). Sometimes we’d have piano accompaniment, but most of the time it was a cappella with three- or four-part harmonies. It makes my heart swell just to remember it: Mother’s voice was warm and true; my brother’s full baritone added color; Wendy always sang harmony; and sister Rob’s clear, sweet soprano could always reach the highest notes of O Holy Night. The rest of us would fill in around them. The house rang with music — all the songs you can think of, and more. Everyone requested their favorite carol — mine was always We Three Kings of Orient Are; Missy always requested Winter Wonderland. (What’s yours?)
I can’t even begin to describe the joy and love in that moment.
The gifts had to wait until one last tradition — the reading of A Visit From St. Nicholas, (you might know it as ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas) by Clement C. Moore. Mother would sit and the children would crowd in at her feet. She loved poetry and knew how to read it aloud, engaging her young audience. She knew it by heart, so she just turned the pages to show the kids the pictures. I’m sure my nieces and nephews remember it fondly. I sure do.
Next came the mad scrabble gift exchange. We all know what that’s like – squeals of delight, oohs and aahs, and lots of hugs and thank yous. The din was terrific — my ears would still be ringing the next day. Not long after the last gift was unwrapped, it would be time to go home, tired but happy.
In later years, my young adulthood, sister Wendy hosted the party at her house, but the traditions were much the same. It didn’t matter where the party was or what food was served — the main ingredient was always love.
I hope you all have memories like this, the kind that warm your heart. And I hope you’re all making more memories just like them, whatever your traditions may be. As much as I miss my parents and my sisters, I am eternally grateful for the memories that envelop me this time of year. I am thankful to my brother and sister-in-law for hosting this event for so long. My traditions are quite different now with my own family, but I believe that it doesn’t really matter what you do, as long as you do it with those you love.
Photo credit Alan Cleaver