Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmases past and present

Christmases of my childhood were always waking on Christmas morning in my own house, opening our gifts, and making the trek (with side dishes in tow) to my grandmother's for the family gathering. From the time I was roughly 4 until around 14, she lived in a townhouse-style apartment in a small town: 2 stories, very small square footage. A small front porch, a foyer with stairs leading to the bathroom at the top and two bedrooms. On the main level, a couple of rooms as parlor and living room, and a galley-style kitchen. To fit my grandmother, 7 children and spouses, and fifteen grandchildren (and occasional other people) in there was always a challenge. Those of us who were the younger grandchildren ate our food while sitting on the steps. Adults and older grandchildren had to navigate around us if they needed to avail themselves of the facilities.

But then Granny moved. She had an apartment that was slightly smaller in square footage, but all on one level. Four rooms: living, kitchen, bedroom and bath. We ate everywhere but the bathroom that first year. The next year, she wisely made arrangements to use the clubhouse at the complex. MUCH better. We kept that arrangements for a number of years. Then a couple of times, we had it in other places -- my uncle's house, another locations, and then my aunt arranged to have it at her church's social hall, since nothing was ever going on there on Christmas Day. 

By that point, things were very different in my life from the time of my childhood. I'd gone from Protestant to Catholic, working on my career (such as it was/is), and in some ways completely miserable. I loved my family but I loved my friends too, and parts of me were wishing I was having an "Orphans' Christmas" where friends get together and celebrate being a chosen family to each other. But in my case, all my friends were celebrating with their own families. Another part of me was thinking that one year it would be nice to travel somewhere for Christmas..... go to a resort or a vacation spot and celebrate all of us just being together.

Soon enough the time came when we decided that having it on Christmas Day was too much: too many of us having to visit other parts of our families (in-laws, in-laws-to-be, sending the kids to the ex's for the holidays)...... and so the tradition of the Sunday after Christmas began. I think that year, I actually breathed a sigh of relief at the idea of having Christmas Day with nowhere to go, nothing to do unless I just wanted to..... gasp! how nice!

Then October 1996 came around, and Granny passed. We had another Sunday-after-Christmas gathering that year, because it didn't seem right not to. We cousins sat and spoke to each other as adults, more as friends than as cousins. And then..... we didn't do anything for a few years. Even now, our gatherings are sporadic. We've lost a few more people, gained a few more, but we're staying connected still. The eldest uncle is now requiring assistance, and it breaks my heart to realize he's so much older now. I still think of him as that sweet, kind pillar of strength for the family.

Christmas for me will be the same as it has been for about 22 years or so now. Leave for church sometime after 10:00 PM on Christmas Eve. Sing at prelude to Midnight Mass and celebrate our Savior's birth in the dark, quiet hours of the morning. Come home and collapse! Wake, have breakfast, open presents. Only now, it's relaxing with my family .... and this year, going to see Les Miserables with some friends from choir on Christmas Day. I've actually never gone to the movies on Christmas Day, but so many of my friends do. It might become a new tradition for me!

However you celebrate, make sure that you remember the best things about the season: even if you have no religious practices to the season, it is a spirit of giving and of love, of warmth and light overcoming darkness. Be the light and love the world needs.

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