Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Remembering a Christmas Past

Just sitting here thinking about the upcoming holidays and that led me to recall some of celebrations from my youth. As I state in my book Sensitivity 101 for the Heterosexual Male "even though people were more communicative back in the day, there were still secrets kept which would never come to life. People enjoyed sharing the good times together; for the most part they kept the bad to themselves."

Even though there was a time when we were a "real family" I don't remember any Christmas parties until after my mom and dad got divorced. I guess that could be considered a bad part on my journey of self discovery. But what I do remember afterward really emphasizes what the holidays should be all about.

Being from a split family, we were able to celebrate Christmas three separate times.

On Christmas Eve, my mom would help us kids get dressed in our best outfits and then drive us to her parent's house. After loading the car with small hand-made presents for our grandparents and aunt and uncle, the four of us would be off for the 1/2 hour ride. We would all sing Christmas carols when they came on the radio and would smile and laugh the whole way there.

Once there, we would anxiously await for everyone to get home from work, mainly my uncle. He worked downtown and always got stuck in rush hour traffic, even on Christmas Eve. But lo and behold, by 4:00 we were all there waiting for the time that us kids could open our presents. For the longest time it was just three of us, but eventually more cousins came along, which made the wait even longer. Although we never received many presents, and mostly got clothes, the actual opening of these presents became very enjoyable and actually helped me to understand that Christmas really is for kids.

Once all the gifts were opened, dinner was served. We had ham and turkey, stuffing and all the sides I grew up loving--green bean casserole, cranberry sauce and fresh baked biscuits. The smells of this Christmas dinner always made me smile.

After cleaning up, the four us would get back into the car and my mom would drive us over to our other grandparent's house. Even though the divorce had happened, they still loved us and wanted to see us every year. So my mom would drop us off, sometimes coming in to say hi, and then go back to her parents house. Here at "the other grandparents" we would meet our cousins, try to get to know each other again and on a few rare occasions, see our father. He had left when I was around 8 or 9 and went on his own journey of self discovery. Most times that didn't include us kids.

One of the best times I remember was the year he actually showed up. I was twelve and wasn't expecting to see him at all. We arrived after the rest of the family had eaten, as usual. When we walked in, there he was sitting on the couch. My little sister ran up to him and gave him a hug, while my brother and I shook his hand--like big boys do. The four of us sat and talked for what seemed like hours.

Then it was time for presents. Every year my grandfather would "get called into work" just after all of us arrived. He never was able to see "Santa" when he came through the door carrying a big bag of toys for us and for our 7 cousins. One by one, he would hand out a single present, which we would open youngest to oldest after Santa left for the night. By the time it was my turn, somehow Grandpa always had returned from work.

This year in particular I got a small box--in it about a dozen slides to use on a microscope. Unfortunately, I had no microscope. My dad saw the look on my face and reassured me, after I said that Santa must have made a mistake, that all would be well. Well he was right. The first big present I got from my grandparents that year was that microscope. I also realized for the first time that Santa wasn't really Santa at all, but my grandfather in disguise. I kept that secret from the younger kids. Again as I say in the book "I got used to keeping secrets as I grew up."

One of the kids got a toboggan from Santa and as all the cousins, except for me and my uncle, who was one year older than me, sat down on it a picture was taken. Everyone was smiling and laughing--I still have that photo.

Dad took us home that night and kissed us good-bye.

The next morning we opened more presents, this time from the real Santa (Mom) and then went to have leftovers at her parent's house. We would help Grandma make ham salad, from the leftover ham from yesterday. She also had a tradition--there were two times a year, Christmas and New Years Eve, where all the adults would have to eat a small piece of creamed herring on a cracker. At Christmas it was to remind us that not everyone had it as good as we did, even though we didn't have it all that well. And at New Years Eve it was to welcome in the new year and hope that all our wishes came true. That was the first time I was involved in this ritual...I had finally become an adult.

This is what Christmas should be all about.

Throughout my journey of self discovery I've kept this memory with me. Now that all the grandparents, and even Dad, are dead and gone I still remember that Christmas.

I vowed that my children would have holidays just like that one...and he has. Christmas really is for kids, but it's for adults too. It helps us get through the hustle and bustle of our lives, it helps us relax among friends, and it rekindles memories of days gone by. And even though Christmas has changed since when I grew up, I still find it is my favorite holiday of the year.

Here's hoping you and yours have a great Holiday Season..


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