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...