Monday, December 13, 2010


I've been thinking about Christmas. I had some really nice ones when I was a kid. No sob stories here. Some people hate Christmas because of bad holiday memories from their childhood. I had a lot of fun.

My parents always warned me not to expect too much. I think perhaps when I was very young there may have been lots of presents. When I was 8, our family finances underwent some changes. Single parent households aren't typically rolling in money, but job loss can stretch things tighter.

But I never noticed fewer presents, really. I mean, there were fewer, technically, but I think what made the difference was my brother and I didn't feel our holiday was lacking. We had traditions. There was my father's family, over 20 people, packing into my grandma and granpa's post-war six-room house's living room. Exactly seven places to sit. Get up to go to the bathroom and you lost your spot. Those were fun Christmas eves.

There was Christmas eve before bed, my brother and I doing our pyjama race to see who could open their Christmas eve present first. There was waking up to a stocking in our beds and the rule of waiting till 7:00 to wake up Mom. There were always new movies and the yearly debate and squabble over which one we'd watch first.

Then breakfast. Then Grammy and Poppie's for dinner and more presents. Mom had a rule that we were only to get clothes, as they were needed. So we weren't wild over them, because kids never see the value in clothes, but we loved our family. Our closest cousins would be there and we'd play and swap stories.

Leading up to Christmas, my mom and I would go to one of her friend's for baking all kinds of holiday goodies that we'd stick in the freezer and bring out as needed: cookies, squares, cake, chocolate...

Things changed when we got older. Grammy passed. Then Grandpa five years later, and a year later my mother, and a year after that, Grandma. A lot of families fall apart after so many deaths, particularly when those deaths were of people who were like glue. But life marched on and Christmas evolved, not without sadness, but you find joy in the holidays where you can if you try.

And with the new Christmas locations to go to, different schedules and new significant others, things started to get sticky. My father played turf war over Christmas, which was needless to say a bad time for all. Did it with Thanksgiving, too. Any holidays you wished to include others or expand your repertoire of activities and visits he took as a personal affront. It doesn't make sense, so explaining it would be pointless, at least for today. So for a few years, Christmas was very unpleasant.

In the years we've been estranged, things have again grown into something cheerful and festive. And with a fiancee I've been with for four years, there's been some dividing up of holiday time to make sure we see everyone. And everyone does this. As you age, Christmas stops being about the presents and starts being about who you spend time with. I know a number of people my age still get presents, but that's dwindled for me for many years now and has almost reached nil.

There's a couple people I do exchanges with, but there's no actual "Christmas morning" type of thing in my life anymore. That part of my life has come to a close. And when I thought of how this year would be, waking up at my mother-in-law-to-be's house and eating breakfast, drinking coffee and being with the man I'm going to marry, I felt good.

And then we'll go to my aunt's (One of many aunts I always mention) for Christmas dinner and see about 25 of my relatives there. And then the next morning, it's off to the lake to see the Dude's dad and step mom. And there'll be questions about the wedding that I'll have answers to, and we'll eat festive things and sleep in and be cozy with warm drinks.

And I can look back on my mom and thank her for always making Christmas about family and tradition and the experience, and not the gifts. And traditions are important. Last year when my brother came up to spend Christmas with us after Jerry died, I laid a stocking out on his bed like our mom used to do when we were kids. In all honesty, I did it more for me than for me. You do little things to keep what and who matters alive how you can and where you can.

1 comment:

  1. I've always found that the people who are most negative about the holidays tend to be ones who define Christmas with gifts. Growing up on a fixed income, I don't remember very many gifts at all, but I remember putting up stockings in our apartment, my sister and I buying one another our favourite chocolate treats, my mother's roast... this year, I kind of inherited my parents' old plastic tree, which they haven't really bothered putting up since I moved out (my sister bought a smaller 3-footer that they use instead).

    My sister helped me pack it, and we ended up nostalgia-tripping through old ornaments, like the one I made out of a styrofoam cup in kindergarten that my mom still keeps, or the drums that we bought from my sister's grade six fundraising catalogue. And when I unpacked the tree at my place later that night, I stopped and realized that I'd been putting up that same plastic tree almost every year since I was five. I still prefer real trees, but little traditions sure do make you feel warm and fuzzy.

    Just thought I'd share, since you did. I can totally identify. I'm a holiday lover. :)