Sunday, November 04, 2007

Fun Monday - Tradition!

Deborah, the Humble Housewife is hosting this week's Fun Monday... Her humbleness says:
I want to hear about or see a holiday tradition, recipe or event. It can be any holiday you like or that is special to your family. With Thanksgiving and the Winter holidays coming up, those would be especially apt, but anything that is special for your family is fine. If you have pictures - it's a bonus! Whether it's your Mom's famous stuffing recipe, going caroling on Christmas Eve, Diwali dances, or even the inevitability of Great Aunt Polly having one too many brandies and knocking over the Christmas tree - I want to hear about it!!

One would think that with a family as large as mine, there would be a gazillion holiday traditions. Well, I can think of a few... Mostly Christmas-related.

Being a big family, with my dad being the sole breadwinner most of that time, we learned to pinch pennies when we could. For instance, our Christmas tree was usually purchased on Christmas Eve when they were practically giving the things away so the sellers could go home to their own holiday. We would decorate the tree - with homemade popcorn strings, delicate glass bulbs, amazing golden-sequined ornaments made of spray paint and egg carton sections, felt wisemen and donkeys made by our hippie aunt Jill. The lights were the kind that clamped to the branches and bubbled glycerin like little science experiments all over the tree. It was beautiful.

Then after dinner we got into our jammies and robes and wrote Santa our holiday wish lists. After our hearts' desires were committed to paper, Dad "mailed" our letters by folding them over the end of the polker and holding them over the fire in the fireplace. Being young and very naive, we didn't actually know that warm air rises and the excitement when the letter jumped free of the polker and whisked up the chimney was nearly more than we could bear.

The ceremonies of the night wound down as hot cocoa was served with tiny marshmallows. We gathered around the fire and my father's feet as he settled back in his chair with his mug and began reading A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas. My father had a lovely sonorous voice and made his living in radio. He also grew up around the theatre (my grandfather was an actor) so he really knew how to read a story. It's really a short story, but coming at the end of the day, it was the perfect thing to nod off to. Once the third paragraph was done and our imaginations were fired up for dreams, we would begin to drift. But I always loved that third paragraph:

It was on the afternoon of the Christmas Eve, and I was in Mrs. Prothero's garden, waiting for cats, with her son Jim. It was snowing. It was always snowing at Christmas. December, in my memory, is white as Lapland, though there were no reindeers. But there were cats. Patient, cold and callous, our hands wrapped in socks, we waited to snowball the cats. Sleek and long as jaguars and horrible-whiskered, spitting and snarling, they would slink and sidle over the white back-garden walls, and the lynx-eyed hunters, Jim and I, fur-capped and moccasined trappers from Hudson Bay, off Mumbles Road, would hurl our deadly snowballs at the green of their eyes. The wise cats never appeared.

I grew up in Florida, where snow is a true rarity. I had never seen snow, and the idea of lots of snow - enough for snowballs was something that I could only imagine. And I loved the idea that there were wise cats smart enough to avoid those naughty boys.

I'm pretty sure that my brothers and I ALL fell asleep before the end of the story, as all I ever remember of the end of the night is that brief falling sensation as my father lowered me to my bed and my mother tucked the covers over my shoulders before dreams of snow and cats descended once again.

In the morning, we would awake to the stockings we'd hung the previous night lying across our feet, chock full oranges and chestnuts (suspiciously like the ones that were roasting in the fireplace the previous night), a little chocolate and a couple of small toys. I'm sure the idea was to keep us in our beds just a little while longer, but of course we all had to leave our beds to share the contents of our stockings so that particular fantasy of my parents' never really worked out. The boys and I would meet in the living room and look with dropped jaws at all the presents under the tree. Santa was good to us, no matter what we'd put on our lists or what was actually in the boxes. We got to open most of them before getting dressed and going to Grandma's house for breakfast lasagne and "Christmas at Grandma's".

There we were greeted with another tree and presents underneath. Breakfast was eaten first, and in record time, followed by presents! Since they were at Grandma's house, they were mostly clothes (beautifully coordinated, high quality clothes) that we did not appreciate as much as we should have. But there were toys and the odd, really special present in there too.

We would un-invade Grandma's little house and return to our own to clear away paper debris and get ready for the big Christmas dinner. We usually at it at our house, since we had the biggest table. My uncle and his wife and daughter would join us, along with Grandma for a big turkey dinner, complete with mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, sweet peas, brown-n-serve rolls... and rutabaga. For some odd reason, mashed rutabaga was ALWAYS a part of this meal and EVERYONE had to have some. It is definitely an acquired taste. And the first holiday tradition to go out the window once I was on my own was the rutabaga!

But the best holiday tradition happened after dinner. The dishes would be stacked in the sink to soak, and we'd all pile into our twin blue and white VW buses and go find a country road to walk. Those were wonderful, long, meandering walks. Different groups would form along the way. A football was always in evidence (though none of us were particularly into football) to be tossed back and forth, and we chatted. Usually nothing earthshaking, but it was a golden timeout from the rest of the day and the rest of the year to just sort of reconnect as a family. It's the walks after dinner that I think of first.

We've all gone our own ways now. Grandma died a few years back. My parents have a farm which has become the gathering place for holiday get-togethers. My uncle's ex-wife died of breast cancer many, many years ago and his new (well, his second-) wife isn't as into family stuff. The brothers have moved away for the most part, and the ones left behind are busy a lot - even on holidays sometimes. It's a real crapshoot these days as to who will show and who won't. I think it's like that for most families now... While modern technology can keep us in close contact, we're not nearby anymore. And holiday tradition doesn't seem to exist much.

I'd like to reinstitute some for my own son. We do the stocking thing and have the same results in terms of keeping the kid in bed. But the other things? We don't do them. We're pulled in different directions for all holidays, and Darling Man has a job that requires that he work some part of Christmas Day usually, so it's hard to do.

Perhaps it's time to introduce my son to Dylan Thomas...

24 comments:

Emma in Canada said...

Your childhood Christmases dound fantastic! I love that story as well. Our Christmas Eve story was always Twas the Night Before Christmas. Good memories.

Emma in Canada said...

ummm...sound. Oops.

Deborah said...

What a beautiful post! I really felt myself there if you know what I mean. Sounds like you have a very special family and even though it doesn't always happen that way anymore, you'll always have those beautiful memories!

Thanks for participating - if you wouldn't mind linking back so others can see the rest that would be great! Thanks!

karisma said...

That was great! Thanks for sharing. I really liked the first part where you all decorated the tree together. I love all the preparation more than the actual day.

Sandy said...

What lovely memories! and I must be some distant relative - my family never had rutabaga but I love rutabaga! I'll add your tradition to my dinner this year and eat your share.

lisa's chaos said...

Oh I love the whole thing you did as kids. I felt I was there seeing the beautiful tree and how fun to have your santa letter whisked up the chimney.

I hope you're able to do something like that for your little one.

Debs said...

Beautifully written. :)

Great post about your family.

AnGlOpHiLe FoOtBaLl FaNaTiC said...

I loved how special the time was even without the "stuff" most people seem to think are important.

Lil Mouse (Jill) said...

definitely sounded fantastic the letters to santa and not really caring if it was the same thing you got or not. wow. i mean. just. wow. very cool about the whole fireplace thing..

Beckie said...

My goodness, you had the kind of Christmas I could only imagine - something out of a fantasy for me.

Wonderful and magical.

Liane Michel said...

I remember being at your house Christmas eve when I was 5 and getting to experience writing my letter to Santa and sending it up the fireplace chimney. It was so magical and that memory stayed with me growing up. It wasn't a tradition in my family, however, as we never had a fireplace, but when my own kids were little, we would use the grill to recreate the magic. They LOVED it!

thefoodsnob said...

How wonderful, nice writing, I could imagine myself there.
It's sad to think of how my family has been split apart. But hopefully making new traditions for my children!

Lisa

min said...

Growing up in Florida, we never had a fireplace...what were you doing with one?
I think I'm related to you too, not that we ate rutabaga either, but we did have the blue and white VW van. We probably at least waved to you on the road once or twice.

Tiggerlane said...

Posts like these make me wish I had grown up with a large family, all living close-by.

I am still laughing at "we waited to snowball the cats." LOL!

Karmyn R said...

Reading about your childhood Christmas gave me warm fuzzies.

Kerith Collins said...

thanks for stopping by and sharing the well-wishing blog love!

Dallas said...

Your childhood memories sound like a fairytale - beautiful writing.

Dad said...

One reason why the tree went up on Christmas Eve was the British tradition of Christmas; that the tree goes up through the 12 Days of Christmas from Christmas to Epiphany when, theoretically, it comes down. Of course ours didn't and often stayed up into February.
Lovely memories, seen through your eyes and your heart.

Mom said...

There is no disputing the fact that we all loved and enjoyed our tree long after Christmas,free of the frantic rush to get the holiday all put together. Taking it down was always accompanied by a certain degree of saddness, but the queen of late tree removing was Kelly Bolton's mom, who left her tree up until June, and was afraid to drag it out of the house because of spontanious combustion.
Happy Memories.....Thanks, "Sprph".
Love, Mom

theotherbear said...

What a great post - thanks, I felt like I was there. Or I wished I was!

Polly P said...

Talk about emotive; that was a lovely post. I can identify with so much of what you have said. It refreshes my Christmas spirit; which over the years, despite the little ones, has become just a little jaded. Thank you!

Robin (the PENSIEVE one) said...

What an air of nostalgia to your post...your childhood traditions clearly left an impression on you for you to be able to write so well about them NOW!

See? That just reinforces to me how important it is to make traditions for my kids! You SHOULD introduce your son to Dylan Thomas!! No time like the present! :)

dawn said...

What a wonderfully reflective post. Such great traditions, but alas nothing stays the same, so memories serve as a starting point, and a place to go back to. Thanks for sharing your traditions.

Lil Mouse (Jill) said...

on the long drive home last night, i shared some of your holiday traditions with my husband. he loved them. he couldnt think of anything specific that they did. we agreed that reading the real christmas story and the night before christmas would be awesome traditions. we love the fire thing, although right now we dont have a fireplace or anything, but we agreed it would be cool to have a fire and perhaps some of that cool stuff that changes flame color and then "mail" your letter to santa in the flames. i guess there's all kinds of ways to do it. we'll see. no kids yet so we have time to figure it out. but thanks again for sharing. i love the fireplace images!