Saturday, December 24, 2011

Ghosts of Christmas Past, Promises of Christmas Future

Today is Christmas Eve. It's an "off year" for our family gathering meaning that my family, the one I was born into, gets together to celebrate Christmas only every other year. The opposite years are generally committed to my husband's family. We travel during Christmas, no matter which family's year it is. However, this year is off for both families. We are not travelling and we'll be waking up on Christmas in our own home. Santa will be coming down our Chimney this year. I honestly can't remember the last time we were home for the holidays. It was odd to wake up today, on Christmas Eve, in our own home and not start the day by stuffing suitcases into the car for a nine hour drive.

While both sides of my family will be missed this year, I am enjoying being home so far and know it will be a Christmas to remember. They all are in their own way. This one is particularly memorable due to my niece. She started her Christmas two days ago by receiving a gift of life in the form of a stranger's stem cells. This gift will unfold for her and all who love her over the next several weeks as her body accepts this gift and makes it her own. A truer gift we can not imagine and none of us need to unwrap anything else this year. Thank you selfless stranger and Merry Christmas to you and yours.

All of our Christmases are memorable, maybe not remembered by exact year but memorable by event. While our Christmases are steeped in tradition, something unique usually happens each year to keep it fresh.

Traditionally, leading up to Christmas, we count down the days by the daily ceremonial cutting off of a button from the homemade Advent calendar. The calendar is a strip of festive red felt dotted with fancy buttons for each day of December. Each evening in December, an anxious child lops off another button to signify the occasion of surviving one more day of anticipation. For a child, the thrill of being the button-cutter is the highlight of many a cold December day.

I don't know the true history of this tradition in my family. My grandmother Oma may have started it as she had an impressive fancy button collection and was skilled in the domestic art of button sewing. My own mother continued this tradition for my siblings and me. I started the tradition for my own children as you can see from this vintage photo.

Sadly I have killed the tradition with my ineptitude for sewing buttons and my complete refusal to even to try. Bah Humbutton, I say. But the tradition lives on in our memories and is an homage to the days when women did crap like sewing buttons. Embracing women's freedom everywhere, we have this guy instead. He only requires that we move a tethered button from numbered slot to numbered slot each evening. And no sewing.

Another holiday family favorite is the traditional holiday nudity.

Don we now our gay apparel has a whole different meaning in our house.

Decorating this way is fun but it adds another reason for my husband to dislike hanging the outdoor lights.

Every year the children write a note for Santa which they leave by the chimney on Christmas Eve.

This is followed promptly by the traditional reading of select chapters from the Harbrace Handbook and Elements of Style.

This really gets the children's attention and readies them for the long winter's nap that is Christmas Eve night.

But before bedding down on the Eve, each child opens one Christmas present. Traditionally, it is their Christmas pajamas. If Santa's going to see you sleeping, you have to be wearing new pjs, right? This is one of those traditions that works about twice and then after that everyone feigns their excitement. Grandma tried to liven it up one year with the addition of a wool thong she had crocheted.

As you can imagine, this holiday tradition did not stick.

When we all are together on Christmas, fun and spontaneity are the rules. Wacky holiday activities abound like karaoke without the lyric prompts...

...the Biennial Ugliest Foot Competition which is strangely won by the same person every time...

...and last year's extemporaneous tribute to lederhosen.

Yes, my family knows how to have holiday fun!

So on this Christmas Eve morning, even as I miss my large family holiday gathering, I appreciate the ghosts of Christmas Past. I will cherish this Christmas Present with my little family

 and anticipate many Christmas Futures with my larger family once again.

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