It’s been a fairly leisurely week in the lead up to Christmas. Snowfall. Shopping. Cooking. Sorting presents. Planning for traditional Christmas Eve supper and then gathering with family for Christmas Day.
Growing up, there were a number of years when we went to my Grandparents’ in Olympia. We would go down on Christmas Eve to spend the night. Their home was two stories with a basement. There were two bedrooms upstairs, each with a double bed for the adults and rugs for sleeping bags for the kids. My family had the Bird Room, so named because the bed had a quilt with birds made from many of Grandma’s sewing projects including clothes she had made for us. I loved tracing the birds, looking at the fabric patterns. The quilt came to me after my Grandma passed away. My aunt and uncle were in the other room and I have no recollection of the name we gave that room. My other aunt and uncle had a room in the basement. Years later, when I stayed with my grandparents for two months as a Page for the House of Representatives, I stayed in the Bird Room.
It was so much fun waking up with cousins in the house, running downstairs to see the stockings and presents under the pretty tree. The tree always had delicate glass bird ornaments. There’s a name for the kind of glass; I don’t remember now. Whether in our own home, or at Grandpa and Grandma’s, the stockings were simply filled – always an orange, a walnut, lifesavers, some trinket. Before Christmas dinner there would be cranberry juice with ginger ale, chex mix and some vegetables. I remember the year Grandma served jicama for the first time. I have loved it ever since.
When my husband and I were first together, we spent Christmases traveling. We were both teachers, had the time off, and had trips we wanted to take. Our first trip was to spend Christmas in Sitka with our friends who had been the couple we had our first date with and who were also the witnesses at our wedding. Though we didn’t talk about it much, it was also so much simpler, emotionally, not to be with the family at Christmas. We were living together, not married, and my parents were not very happy about that.
For some years, we traveled to California for coursing events with our dogs. We raised Salukis, three of them, and made the 1,000 mile trip down and back with another couple from Bellingham. We would have restaurant meals and stay in Motel 6’s along the way (one of the few motel chains that was easy to have dogs in our rooms). We would take presents to each other and open them in the morning. It was always fun to be with a group of friends celebrating, on the road.
When our daughter was born, we began staying home, and joining my family for Christmas, or my husband’s family. With my family, we would be in Anacortes, and we just go for the day. My in-laws lived in Leavenworth, so it was a snowy winter wonderland and we would go for a few days. Every year was a bit different. There weren’t any rituals with my husband’s family, but we continued my family’s traditions with our daughter. A stocking with an orange, a walnut, tic tacs and some candies, little things. Always a present from Santa and a present from us.
Our daughter was quite the trip to shop for. She only ever asked Santa for ONE thing. No lists. No choices. And they were very specific requests. A wind up kitty that played a lullaby. The blue and white china tea set from “Frances” stories. Fortunately we had an Auntie Pam who was always game for the hunt! I don’t think Santa ever failed to come through.
For as long as I can remember, we’ve had oyster stew on Christmas Eve. I could call my brother and sister and know that they too were having oyster stew. A variety of breads and cheese followed by cookies. Simple.
One thing we won’t be doing this year that is really rather sad for me, is that we will not go to a Christmas Eve service. I grew up in a Disciples of Christ church with a congregation of 1,000. The sanctuary was huge with a large balcony as well. I loved the service! 11pm. A the end of the service, the candles would be lit at the front of the sanctuary and the glow would grow as we turned and lit one another’s candles, singing Silent Night. Oh, how that filled me with wonder, love, spirit and knowing I was part of something much larger than I.
For a few years, there a community Christmas Eve service at the Mt. Baker Theater, put on by Tom Hunter. Those were magical nights, so many friends from town were there and Tom always wrote a new song for the service. My favorite was a song called “There Might Be Angels”. Tom was a Congregational minister and well-know musician and teacher. He created such an inclusive, inspirational service and for those of us not affiliated with a church, it was so satisfying to have that as our tradition.
A dozen years ago, we as a family, daughter 16 at the time, joined a Unitarian Church. The Christmas Eve services were such a great continuity for me of candlelight services and traditional carols. Again, something sweet about being with friends in something larger than myself. We’re currently taking a break from that congregation, so for the first time in many years, we will be home. We will also just be the two of us as our daughter will spend the evening with her family and their own traditions.
I am aware of feeling content. I talked about this with a friend earlier today as we checked in with one another. We’ve raised our kids together and are now at that point where they are adults, with families and lives outside of ours. It is an interesting time to be settling into doing only the things that mean something to us. We do not have a tree. The only Chrismasy thing in our home, really, is our Christmas dishes. They come out the week-end of Thanksgiving and stay in use until after the first. We have a few little special candles, but have not decorated. I am loving that our daughter and her family have their own traditions.
My mother was not able to adjust to our adult family lives. One year, we were traveling, and my siblings were also either with their in-laws or traveling. When I called to talk to my mom, she said it was the worst Christmas. She felt like someone who lived under the freeway with no where to go. Really. That’s what she said. She was angry that she would be having Christmas dinner at the yacht club with friends who called themselves ‘the Christmas orphans’. She laid the guilt on so heavily. Interestingly, my dad didn’t say anything negative at all. He looked forward to spending the day with their good friends. I’m sorry she couldn’t make the best of it.
I am really happy that our daughter is free to make plans with her family. They will all go with us to my sister’s for Christmas day. There will be 17 or 18 of us together. We don’t exchange gifts, just spend the day together and contribute to a charity. Last year we donated, as a family, to NAACP in Seattle. There will be lots of talking, some games, good food. I make a trifle every year and have fun coming up with new recipes.
I feel truly blessed to be alive, to have a wonderful husband, siblings and a daughter, daughter-in-love and four granddaughters. We have much to be thankful for. We all have a story. This is part of mine.