Being on the road over the last two weeks, driving up and down the eastern seaboard, traveling to visit both of our families, has given me plenty of time (30 hours over 1,700 miles) to reflect on some of the most sentimental memories of Christmases past.
A majority of the things in my life tend to occur in a linear way. They have a beginning, middle and end, even this story that you’re reading. We generally measure our progress through stages, completing one thing and then moving on to the next, never to return.
One thing that I’ve noticed about parenting multiple children is that it’s cyclical – experiences are revisited again and again from different perspectives. I can’t help but look back and reminisce about how my parents instilled certain holiday traditions within my brothers and I as children and how I’m going through the exact same practice with my three kids, almost forty years later.
I can recall my mom and dad getting stressed out about the same things my wife and I do around the holidays, yelling back and forth about which gifts were wrapped with what paper OR if they were even pulled out of their hiding spots and wrapped at all.
The screaming up and down the stairs between my brothers and my mom, as she double-confirmed that we were busy putting on the pre-assigned outfits that were appropriate for each particular gathering.
I can remember the pandemonium that surrounded whipping up last minute appetizers or desserts and walking to the car like we were on a tight rope, with my dad reminding us not to drop anything.
My brothers and I all sat together in the car, lined up next to each other on the middle bench seat of our station wagon as my dad focused on getting us there within the time frame of what was still considered ‘fashionably late’, as my mom fiddled with the dials on the radio, searching for some Christmas carols – looking back at us as she bobbed her head and sang along to ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’.
The chaos and tension was palpable up until the moment we rang the doorbell at Nana and Pop-Pop’s. As the door swung open to reveal my aunts, uncles and cousins running around the house in their turtlenecks and cable-knit sweaters.
My dad would be offered a cold one, my mom would accept a glass of wine and cocktails were always on the ready in the dry sink (that usually harbored Nana’s candy jars in the off-season) as the adults all hugged and began to catch up on the year that had just passed.
My cousins and I would go downstairs to the den and bee-line towards the hidden compartments underneath the bench seats (they flipped up) revealing a stash of old Crazy Eights playing cards, colored pencils, paper and a cardboard tube of Lincoln Logs.
We’d form a circle around the antique Victrola Phonograph, lift the lid and plug in the handle on the side. Since I was the oldest, I’d lay an old-timey record on the turntable and give it a few cranks, listening to the sounds of an unfamiliar era.
After the appetizers were cleared, Nana would call us to the table and we’d all gather around for a blessing and then dinner. We’d go straight into dessert and coffee, then gather around the Christmas tree in the living room and take turns watching each other open presents while listening to carols on the radio.
After the kids opened their gifts, we all got into our pajamas, with the younger kids going to bed and a few of the older kids staying up to watch the adults open up their new power tools, tackle boxes, blouses and scarves.
Things don’t seem to be much different these days with my own kids.
We have our own traditions like decorating the tree and making cookies together the day after Thanksgiving. We get together to share our family favorites from a cookbook of handwritten recipes passed down for generations, pulled from notebook with a tired and frayed binding, dotted with spots of shortening and gravy.
We watch Clark Griswold fumble his way through the season, Matthew Broderick and Danny Devito fight over house decorations, roast marshmallows at the fire pit in between playing Mahjong and Rummikub while drinking a Dark n’ Stormy or mulled wine that’s filled the house with a wonderful aroma.
We get our nieces and nephews together to build candy houses and eat homemade biscuits and ham…
…and after riding the Macy’s Pink Pig in downtown Atlanta, we always take the kids to visit Santa – to whisper in his ear that they’ve been NICE this year and run down a laundry list of presents they’d like to see under the tree.
All of these moments and events play an integral part in completing our families’ holiday circle of tradition. But what’s most important, above and beyond anything that might be considered superficial, is being together.
At their core, the holidays, for me, are about being grateful for one another and enjoying the company of family and those close to you. If you’re spending this season with your loved ones this season, take a moment to count your blessings, drink responsibly and spread the cheer!
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