The Voices of Christmas

Over the past few years leading up to Christmas I've done something on Facebook that I call the "Twelve Days of Christmas Gifts of Years Past." I post a picture of a gift I've received or gave when I was a kid back in the 70's, with a brief description of what it meant to me. Often times it sparks memories or responses from people who remember the item or associate it with a particular memory of theirs. Its fun for me to pore over the Christmas catalogs of the past and remember some of the crazy and eclectic gifts of the past.

Of course, as much as the gifts change over the years, what really makes Christmas "Christmas" are the people around me. Over the years, the faces grow older, and the places change, but the undercurrent of love, laughter and support stands true. Everyone gathered around the dinner table every Christmas would go to war for one another and the gift exchanges are just an extension of this appreciation for each other.

Some of the more memorable gatherings of years past included people like:

Cousins, Aunts and Uncles: Back in the years before we were teens, we used to get together with my Mom's sister's family. This meant lots of cousins and a whole lotta noise and chaos. Throw into the mix lots of smoking, cocktails, and laughter and enough presents to raise the national GNP, and you get a holiday blowout that outgrows itself. The first couple years without them was traumatic, but eventually our own families grew to create the same chaos level today.

When I married into another family, their tradition was much the same. Theirs was different in that they conducted a progressive dinner from house to house in the quaint little burg of Gorham, NY. It was appetizers and drinks at one house, dinner at another and dessert at a third. I really liked this tradition, but eventually it outgrew itself too.

My Brother Rob: As much as I miss having him around for dinner and the gift opening, one of the things I always go back to is how we would go to Midnight Mass together at St. Lukes Church every Christmas Eve. Back then, we were hit-and-miss church attendees, with more missin' than hittin', but we always made it a point to make it to Midnight Mass. The mass was always beautiful in the magnificent cathedral that was St. Lukes. Every year on the walk home he managed to catch me off-guard and hip-check me into a snow bank. I think by the fourth year I was onto him and we both ended up in the snowbank as I fought back.

Grandparents: My grandmother Dagny once brought stewed oysters to Christmas. It was an ungodly awful dish - no disrespect - but my stepfather made the point of having some and then raving about them, so as to not be rude. Well, she took that and ran with it and we had the oysters for the next 5 years. It was great having her around every year and she always made it a point to get gifts for all of us grand kids. She was known and feared for her inordinately wet lips when Christmas kisses were given out. She was love and she was loved.

Mom: Throughout the years she has been the steadying force of Christmas. She used to be in charge of the Christmas turkey, then it became the Christmas prime rib roast (roast beast), and still plays a major part in some element of the food coordination and preparation. She rallies the troops on where Christmas is this year, what time we're meeting and other specifics. I can't imagine Christmas without her, we are blessed to have her healthy and happy again this year.

Brothers, Sisters, In Laws, and Steps: There aren't words for everything these bring to the holidays. These are my equals who care about what my kids are up to, how I'm doing at work and in health. They give me their own updates and make sure we are taken care of when we come home, whatever the occasion. God bless them all.

Stepfather: My step dad always had to split the holidays between his natural children and ours, but always made it a point to be there for Christmas. He was a happy spirit.

Nieces and Nephews; They're all approaching teen-hood (or in it), so it's a whole different vibe, but it is so great to see these kids get along so well when they are plopped into each others' environments. The rattle and hum of kids from another room is both disturbing and comforting. Like my own cousins, there will come a day when they don't get together as much, but the foundation that is being laid today will carry through and keep them close for life.

Friends: We were paid a spontaneous visit by our longstanding friends on December 21st. They came over for other reasons, and ended up staying for an hour and catching up. Between them and our other close friends, we always have our "surrogate family" as I'm sure most everyone does. Those folks help pull the coasts closer for those of us who can't travel every year. I thank God for them and all the richness they bring to my own introverted life.

And so I encourage you to take a look around at your Christmas/New Year tables this year and realize that while this scenario may seem "typical" for you, it may be something much more meaningful to your kids, your brother or your niece. Enjoy it for what it is. These people are all on different tracks, but the common thread that weaves you all together is love. And if you can't see that Christmas gift for what it is, then you need to take a long inward look. Because as dysfunctional as it seemingly is sometimes, it is still beautiful, and you're lucky to have it.

Merry Christmas Everyone.

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