As the calendar turns its last page, I wander into the busiest, most-beautiful season of the year.
There are gifts to buy and wrap or hide away. Some families gather for Advent services and decorate Christmas trees. Others hunt for Menorah candles and celebrate a seven-night festival of lights. Still others in the U.S. combine religious observance with community service through Kwanzaa, a festival to recognize their African Heritage.
I grew up in a small northeastern city that was a microcosm of such diversity. In our neighborhood, my playmates had surnames that contained as many vowels as there were consonants. Others had grandparents who still spoke with the thick, guttural accents of their native countries.
I enjoyed countless sleepovers next door at friend Elaine's house, where I learned about Hanukkah and devoured Mrs. Sirkin's blueberry blintzes any time of year. I can't remember how the tradition started, but the Sirkins spent Christmas afternoon with us. While our parents chatted over coffee, we kids jammed into our small living room, playing around the Christmas tree and sharing Christmas and Hanukkah toys.
I often wonder how Christmas traditions start. I don't think it’s intentional. What begins as a good idea one year becomes something people clamber for the next. In our family, Mama and Granny Chris started baking holiday cookies early in December to have on hand for visitors. Because my siblings and I gobbled up most of the sweets, we generated the need for an endless stream of fresh-baked cookies, so Mama and Granny happily complied.
Decorating the tree was another tradition. We used tinsel lovingly placed, one-by-one, to adorn our tree after lights and ornaments were in place. (Throwing tinsel on the tree in clumps was never allowed.) Topping with the angel always last. Making sure the dog didn't tip over the tree was a constant.
One of our favorite customs was driving through quiet streets after candlelight service on Christmas Eve to take in the beauty of the season and 'ohhh' and 'ahhh' over Christmas lights. In fact, Mama told me the first words I ever spoke at were "Lights. Pretty, pretty lights."
This time of year is a joyous one. But for me, it's also tinged bittersweet. Mama and grandparents are gone. Most of the aunts and uncles. Some cousins. A brother-in-law. But they surround me in traditions that bring memories of Christmas past.
As unofficial family historian and writer, I include short notes about provenance with our Christmas decorations, so I can take time and reminisce once JM and I haul their boxes down from the attic. When unwrapping a set of glass-blown ornaments from Germany, I remember the time Pop-pa Pete gave us this beautiful gift. I still have Grandma Granger's tiny Depression-era balls, tucked proudly into the small wooden sleigh that was handcrafted by Grandpa Jerry.
The biggest smiles come from my glue-smudged, kid-made ornaments. I can't bear to toss them, even though they’re aged and worn.
Two decades ago, JM and I started a tradition of our own as newlyweds -- collecting Christmas villages. You know the miniature porcelain buildings decked out for Yule-time and glowing from tiny lights hidden inside? At last count, we had more than 50 such buildings and three times as many figures and bristle-brush trees to accessorize. (A few years ago, we stopped buying villages because we ran out of storage space.) Sprinkled throughout the house, our mini-towns glow warm and welcoming in dark December nights.
The biggest village is under the tree, circled by the train layout JM constructs each year -- another tradition we treasure. His whistle-blowing, steam-spouting trains, along with dancing holiday lights, are sure-fire kid magnets.
As the year winds down and I count my blessings, I want to extend a special thanks to you for following my blog and writerly journey. This path is a roller coaster: I love sharing its 'ups'; appreciate your support when it gets bumpy.
I’m starting a new tradition this year, too: unplugging from social media.
From 17 December until 5 January, I’m taking time off to be with family and friends and enjoy the season. It’s also Dad’s 90th birthday later this month, and our clan is gathering to celebrate with gusto.
and oodles of joyous traditions for your holiday.
Catch you in 2015!
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