The Holidays

As have many of you, I have lived the holidays through many differing decades.  As a child, I was blessed with a mother who created a complete enchantment that I can never hope to duplicate.  As a young adult, it was all about visits home, seeing sisters and friends, and seeing what people thought of my gifts.  As I grew, the holidays became a time of travel to see aging parents and to make sure they were not alone.  Then the tides turned, and my children came to me—so for the first time, I was the one creating the holiday celebrations.  What a creative joy on so many levels!  Everyone came.  I was experienced enough to create a pretty good holiday bliss. 

And now, times are tougher.  Not everyone can travel every year.  I know I can’t.  The definition of family morphs each year to include whoever we can get on whatever night they might be able to come or we might be able to travel.  And yet.  And yet….

Maybe now I am learning more about what matters at the holidays, now that it is tough, not a given, so incomplete from what I wish it were.  But the holidays still come.  Do I yank out the full regalia?   Do we spend that contentious, argumentative, tempers-flaring day of fussing with the tree stand and putting the goddamn lights on the tree without killing ourselves or falling off a ladder?  Do the 12 storage boxes of Christmas ornaments come up from the basement one more time.  Or don’t I care that much this year?

And there is the crux.  Caring.  Trying.  Not surrendering.  This year I have decided to pull out the stops no matter how silly,  no matter who is not here.

But that’s me.  Tell me a story of the essence of your holiday celebration.  Tell us what it means to you and how you end up celebrating these amazing, annual holidays.

21 responses to “The Holidays

  1. There are so many things about Christmas that I love. I love the fact that it lasts three months, it is by far, the mother of all holidays. I love the way stores begin decorating right after Labor Day. I used to love the holiday parties at work, with everyone decorating the holiday tree and struggling to keep from saying “Christmas,” (I worked for the government.) And I think it’s touching the way atheists protest nativity scenes on public property. In my office, all the ladies would wear Christmas sweaters with little pin-on Santas, and if you pulled a string, his nose would light up, I loved that. They say that it is better to give than to receive, I never really believed that, I love getting stuff. But the thing I love most about the Christmas season is sitting around on black friday watching Youtube videos of shoppers getting trampled.

    • Hey, Waldo. I thought you were a musician. Marine Corp band? That’s a fine government job. Good story about Christmases past. I kept reading waiting for the “Waldo skewer” to come, and yep! I got the pleasure of some trampled Black Friday shoppers. Always a cheery holiday sight. It’s good to hear from you.

  2. Nicely put, Waldo. I also worked in a government office. In the first months after my retirement and relocation to the country, I remember a cheery young cashier enthusiastically wishing me Happy Easter. I nearly jumped out of my skin. I looked around furtively, stuttering as I finally blurted out a return greeting. I’m certain she thought I was nuts.

  3. Most of my fondest Christmas memories are a product of revisionist history. Truth is, the more orchestrated and planned the holiday, the farther it lands from the mark. We dream of a picture perfect, Currier & Ives Christmas but actually experience a Holly and Ivy episode of Family Feud. People only live up to the script in Fairytales. However, some of the best surprises happen in the off-script, improvised moments.
    My Mother was big into “Theme Christmases.” One year she decorated the tree and garlands with silk red roses and gold beads. I must have been in 4th or 5th grade and my older brother, J.J. was in Junior High. He was deeply in love with our neighbor girl, JoAnn Rossi. Jay saved his allowance for weeks in order to purchase a mega-sized bottle of Taboo Perfume for his love’s Christmas gift. Since the bottle was so large, J.J. thought there was more than enough perfume to share. In an effort to help my mother with the “Rose Theme christmas,” J.J. proceeded to soak each silk rose in a bowl of Taboo to make them smell realistic. Our house reeked of a French Whorehouse for months. To this day, I can detect a person wearing Taboo within a three-block range. I would love to have my Christmas recollections scented with gingerbread and pine needles, but alas, in my nasal memory, TABOO is the Rule of the Yule…..Tide.

    • One of the nice things about leaving high school was never having to smell Taboo again! Loved the rhymes at the end. A very entertaining read! I expected no less.

  4. Thanks, Peanut! Your story had me smiling. I can picture (and smell) it so clearly. Ugh! I’ll bet your mom was surprised. A truly unforgettable memory.

  5. You set the bar as usual. Loved this story. Did u study with David Sedaris?

  6. We were a family of eight boys and one girl living in the San Fernando Valley a Los Angeles suburb. It was the mid 1950’s. We may have sung “I’m dreaming of a White Christmas, but we had no hopes for one in Southern California. Being poor and from a large family Christmas wasn’t about many gifts or even many decorations. In fact, dad would have us go buy a Christmas tree on Christmas Eve. That way the tree was very inexpensive or even free. Instead of mom and dad giving each of us a present, we drew names and exchanged gifts with our siblings. Mom and dad give no gifts, but we were happy because we were with family. The season was important because we enjoyed each other. Moreover we worshiped together with a common value and faith. Now today with our own families spread around the United States the season is more about faith and family, then the commercialism of the world.

  7. I believe deeply seated archetypes are a primal source of meaning for our lives. The key is to discover them within ourselves, or, more precisely, to recognize them when they break through and reveal themselves to us—which brings me to Christmas.
    If we didn’t celebrate Christmas, I think we would still have to invent something very like it. Getting nervous about the future as the nights lengthen toward the winter solstice is somehow hard-wired into us, and breathing an unconscious sigh of relief when the sun rises a little earlier on December 22nd, is probably innate to the species. We have survived to face another year.
    My family would never have considered our devotion and enthusiasm for Christmas to be linked to primal pagan rites or urges, but we certainly threw ourselves into the holiday. We were a devoutly religious bunch and Christmas was a busy high and holy time filled with sacred choir concerts, living nativity scenes, and candle-lit worship, all in addition to the secular craziness we shared with the rest of the population
    It was the Christmas I was twelve when the deeper meaning of Christmas found its home in my consciousness, not because I had been told it should be there, but because it discovered me and broke through the noise. My family had been dutifully trimming the tree that Dad and I had purchased from the Lions Club lot after much discussion and negotiation. All the baubles and lights had been applied with Mom’s usual rigor, especially the tinsel icicles which had to be placed individually, hanging perfectly straight down, like the real thing, in long even rows up and down each limb. Finally the room lights were extinguished and the tree lights plugged in to many “oohs” and “aahs”. Then one by one, the family drifted away to other rooms and duties until I was left alone. I sat on the sofa looking at the glistening, evergreen symbol of eternal life and somewhere in my soul the beauty of the glitter and glow connected up with agape love and the lessons of my faith. It was as though that last falling Tetris block had clicked smoothly into place and it all suddenly made amazing sense at a gut level. I found myself sniffing back tears and a huge lump in my throat threatened to suffocate me.
    I’ve had other epiphanies since that Christmas: the first time I first heard the second movement of Dvorak’s Cello Concerto, the first time I kissed my wife-to-be, the time I first held my daughter in my arms, and the time our family sat quietly around my father-in-law’s bed and shared his last breath. For a psyche-wrenching moment the world made total sense, a complete picture. And the memory of those moments has brought me stability, meaning and peace even when the world is crazy. Today, when those moments surprise me, breaking-in with their wonder, they connect still more dots in the Maker’s pattern of meaning that anchored itself in my life for the first time that Christmas night.

  8. Speaking as a reader, I delight in the pleasure this piece brings through the many levels of meaning in its content. Speaking as a writer, I find myself spurred and inspired by your amazing craft. Thank you for sharing this rewarding reading experience with us.

  9. What kind comments! Gale, I’m new to the blog, too; although I learned of its existence by being fortunate enough to have Ann as an instructor in a beginning writers’ workshop this fall. I appreciate having a place where hopeful writers-to-be can try things out in a less threatening environment. Thanks to everyone, again for your encouraging words– and please accept my apologies for the typos I found when I reread what I wrote.

  10. BOY 12

    As I started unpacking my clothes, I noticed something very different about this house. It have never been lived in before. My dad and mom were renting a brand new house for the first time. Dad had gotten a “deal” on it through an old friend of his.
    By my twelfth birthday, we had lived in nine different homes all over Southern California. Mom used to joke that ‘we moved every time the rent was due’. This joke seemed way to close to the truth for me. My dad was suffering from a rare phobia, and couldn’t leave home with going into some kind of anxiety attack. So finding work was very hard for him. As the oldest of five children, I was more aware of our family’s financial woes than my much younger siblings.
    Most of the homes we had rented were furnished, but this new one was not.
    “We are hoping to get some furniture from some of our relatives.” said my mom, as she showed my sister and I our bare floored room with two twin mattresses that would serve as our beds. No frame or bed springs, just mattresses laying flat on the floor across the room from each other. There was meager bedding, including a pillow for each of us. We shared a milk crate as our bed-side table, that had a small lamp with some sort of nautical theme as I remember. We had lived through some rough times, but this was sadder than anything we had experienced.
    Christmas was approaching, and food was delivered to our back kitchen door by a charitable organization of some kind. Canned goods, mostly. And rice. My brothers and sisters didn’t see the forlorn look on my face, as I realized just how bad things were this time. I was hoping that mom and dad wouldn’t start one of their fights.
    Somehow they managed to get a tree, and we decorated it with our old hand me down decorations from years past – I don’t think we even had lights on it.
    But, to my surprise, there were brightly wrapped gifts around the tree on Christmas morning. As I looked closer, I saw the tags said things like “Girl 3” “Boy 8”, and so on. I finally found one that said “Boy 12”.
    “This must be mine?” I asked warily.
    “Yes, son, be thankful that you have anything,” said my dad, “There are kids out there that are getting nothing for Christmas.” I tore open the wrapper and found a small magnetic number puzzle. It had the numbers one through fifteen scrambled in four lines, with on blank space. The idea was to slide the numbers back and forth and try to arrange them in correct order from one to fifteen, and end up with blank space at end. I figured it out by the end of the day, and actually became quite good at solving the puzzle. I even took it to my fifth grade class, and showed my new friends how good I was at quickly solving this puzzle.

    It is interesting to note that today, many of my friends and even members of my own family think that I have always been well-to-do. I was fortunate enough to have finished high school, spend four years in the Air Force, and then have a very successful thirty-five year career with a major U.S. Corporation. I try to relate stories of my youth to folks from time to time to keep things in perspective.
    My wife of thirty-two years, always loved the story about my Christmas in Monrovia in the “new house.” So it was with a great deal of planning and love that she placed a small package in my Christmas stocking last December, marked with a simple tag, “Boy 12.” As I tearfully opened it, I found that it contained a small magnetic puzzle she had found in an antique store some time ago. I couldn’t wait to show my grown sons how good their dad was at solving that damn puzzle.

  11. Thank you for a truly poignant story. I had no difficulty envisioning your home and that bleak Christmas experience. I especially like the way you put that experience into broader perspective in the last paragraph. It really spoke to me emotionally. I had tears in my eyes at the same time I was laughing at your closing sentence. [BTW: I think we might have been in the Air Force around the same time. I was an enlisted man from 1970-74. I would never have enlisted if I hadn’t been facing the draft, but today i believe it was one of the most important events in shaping my life.] Thanks again for sharing so personally.

    • Bob, you missed me by a couple of years in Air Force. I joined in Jan 1958 and spent most of my tour in Germany as an air traffic controller in Berlin during the period when Wall was put up & was extened til 1963 by Cuban Missile Crisis. Lucky to get a job at UPS after discharge. Thanks for your nice comments.

  12. Enjoying these entries but can’t figure out how to post mine???
    Suzy

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