Here it is, very early on Christmas morning and I’ve been thinking about our families’ traditions through the years – Christmas has always been a pretty big deal when I was growing up, and fortunately, we’ve continued that trend through our generation and the next. But I thought it would be a nice time to get away from talking about food, and taking a moment to talk about the sense of family and togetherness that is behind the holiday.
As long as I can remember, and even before, Christmas Eve was a bigger deal than Christmas Day, because it was when we’d go and visit family. Even baby me was taken around to see the relatives. I love this picture, because it show the tree that my Oma and Opa put up for Christmas. Yes, that’s the Christmas tree – even as a baby, I towered over it. This is me with the tree on Christmas Eve 1973.
I spent my first couple of years with my maternal grandmother (Edith Mama was what I always called her) because my mom was taking some time away to get her life together so she’d have a suitable home to bring me up in, and my grandmother and my maternal great-grandmother (Oma) were inseparable. Needless to say, that meant I spent a lot of time over there, including the holidays. She died when I was very young of a heart attack (at age 46), but I still think of her often, especially during holidays – I wish I had the opportunity to get to know her better.
At 6, I still believed in Santa, so needless to say I thought it was the real thing. This is me and Santa during Christmas 1978.
From my earliest memories, I remember that we had a tradition every Christmas Eve, to visit all of the relatives in the same order every year. The first stop on the trip was to my Grandmom Jones, my paternal grandmother and to my Aunt Doreen, who lived with her.
Grandmom Jones always had milk and cookies, coffee or tea for the adults, and a kind word for everyone. And she was an equal opportunity Grandmom to everyone – even though my sister Maurya was not her granddaughter by blood, she treated her just like she was. What a wonderful woman. She died a few years ago, and I regret not visiting her more often.
My Aunt Doreen always had a child-like excitement about Christmas, and her excitement was contagious. I think she enjoyed the holiday most of all.
This is a picture of me, my Grandmom Jones and my sister Maurya in like 1983 or so.
After going to my Grandmom Jones’ house, it was off to visit Nana and Puh, my great-grandparents on my mom’s paternal side. They lived in a trailer in South Jersey part of the year, but also lived in Massachusetts (or was it New Hampshire?) as well, so they had these really cool Bostonian accents. Here is my sister Maurya at 2 or 3 years old with Puh.
Nana, as a Christmas gift every year, would knit or crochet some of the ugliest hats, scarfs, etc. ever. But since it was your Nana, and since you know that she put love and care into it, would thank her profusely while thinking in the back of your mind that you’d never been seen in public with it on unless you were going to visit Nana. I’m sure all of us have gotten that kind of Nana gift. Here’s Nana with Maurya.
I believe that they passed away sometime in the late 80’s or early 90’s in their eighties, and again, they are sadly missed. My mom could pinpoint the dates for sure, since she’s really into genealogy, a hobby that Puh got her started in by gifting her with a family tree that he had started and that she later on seriously expanded.
My mom has many of the same Christmas memories that I have, because they spanned generations. Here she is with Opa at Christmas when she was a young child.
And here I am with Opa, on Christmas Eve, almost 30 years later. Notice that my right eye is almost swollen shut. Nana and Puh had 2 Siamese that I had a severe allergy to, so all pictures of me at Christmas at Oma’s and Opa’s have that same oh-so-flattering look.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t locate a picture of Oma and me during Christmas, because she was usually the one behind the camera taking pictures of me and Opa. And they took TONS of pictures. I don’t think a week of my childhood went by where there wasn’t a picture taken. This is Oma and me (as a baby), but it’s a great representation of how to age gracefully. To me, my Oma was the most beautiful person in the world. Quite literally, she *was* my world growing up – the person who kept me centered, who was always supportive, and who always wanted the best for me. She died in 1995, and I still miss her like crazy. Each milestone of my life, I get a bit sad that she couldn’t be there. In many ways, I live my life now as a tribute to her – I always try to do the right thing that would make her proud.
But the Christmas Eve festivities at Oma’s and Opa’s rocked. They would transform my playroom in the attic into a magical Christmas wonderland, with decorations, homemade cookies and other goodies, and presents out the wazoo. Oh, how I always looked forward to that day. Even Maurya got in on it, when she was old enough to understand what was going on. Here she is at all of 2 years getting a present from Opa.
Afterward, we’d head back home and go to sleep, so we could get up at the crack of dawn in the morning to open presents. By then, I didn’t believe in Santa, but I wasn’t going to spoil the magic for my little sister. Here is a pic of me, my sister Maurya and my mom in front of the Christmas tree.
Mom, like most Mom’s, always locked herself into the bedroom to wrap presents so we wouldn’t walk in on her.
In morning, we’d tear our presents open like little bandits. This particular year, I got a Sony Walkman. I spent the next few months with it as a permanent attachment.
My sister, I think, was more interested in tearing the paper to pieces than what was inside. Although, if it was something Smurf related, she’d let out a squee.
We’ve kept a few of the traditions (opening a gift on Christmas eve, doing Christmas baking, etc) but we’ve ended up making many new ones of our own too. Here’s our tree this year – our old tree’s lights went belly up last year so we replaced it with a white one, which is kind of retro. Every year we get a commemorative personalized ornament for our tree listing the names of us and our pets. Since we don’t have kids of our own, we end up spoiling our nephew and nieces. I honestly get more pleasure out of giving than receiving. I’ve been blessed in so many ways, and love to pay it forward for the handful of people I care deeply for.
Tomorrow, we’re going to my sister’s for Christmas dinner. I’ve decided to hand it off to her after doing it the last decade or so. And tomorrow we’ll create new memories, and new traditions. And afterwards, I can take you vicariously through how our family celebrates the holidays.
What traditions does your family have?