It’s December, all the decorations have been brought down from the attic, or up from the basement; the tree is up and it has taken hours to put the lights on, unless you have one of the new artificial pre-lite trees, in which it is up in three sections (depending on the size of the tree)! After careful thought, all the Christmas ornaments have been placed on the tree… and the trimming is done! Everyone stands in awe as the tree is lit for the first time, and smiles while Christmas Carols play in the background.
It’s the time of year that we think about family and spend hours in the kitchen baking Christmas treats. For me, it is the peanut butter star burst cookies, peanut butter fantasy fudge, wedding cookies, and sometimes divinity; I have even tried my hand at truffles! Everyone has their specialty, and Christmas tradition for my mom was her peanut butter fantasy fudge and her magic cookie bars which were to die for and candy bark! The house is filled with the small of spices Christmas baking and the brewing of mulled wine. Eggnog is freely poured never thinking of the calories contained within that cup of rich creamy, velvety smooth happiness! It is a staple of the American Christmas diet. While I lived in the UK, you could not find eggnog for love or money, at least not in the North East. They had this drink called Advocaat which is actually a traditional Dutch and Belgian rich creamy liquor made from eggs, sugar and brandy. I have no clue what it taste like, as it looked so horrible I never could purchase a bottle. So I did the next best thing, and made my own home made eggnog. Honestly if you have the time, it is so much better than store-bought, but make a big batch, as it won’t go begging!
This is the time of year when you pull out last year’s Christmas cards, and saved envelopes (my mom use to save her cards and envelopes from the year before, as her Christmas card list for the following year), and begin the task of writing the Christmas cards, which must be mailed before December 20th to arrive before Christmas. From that first weekend in December until December 25th, the house is a bustle and you never stop moving, or so it seems as you shop till you drop, hiding parcels in the closet, in the attic, or in the basement. My mom began her Christmas shopping shortly after Christmas, hitting all the end of year sales; she was a very frugal shopper and passed that amazing sales shopping skill onto her daughters! She would then carry on throughout the year, tucking her treasures away until Christmas. Inevitably mom would forget one or two of the gifts, misplace it, losing track of all she had purchased throughout the year! It has become one of the family jokes, and fondest group memories, as inevitably mom would forget one or two gifts, and during the passing out of the gifts (it was a ceremony, which we will return to later), she would have dad sneak away to search for, and then wrap the missing gift/s! Bless her, mom did not do much for you during the year, but come Christmas, she made up for it, in spades! Mom loved Christmas; it was her favorite time of year! The decorations went up the first weekend in December and the entire month of December was Christmas at my house!
My younger sister and I share the same Birthday, December 17th eight days before Christmas. Six years after I was born, she was born on my Birthday! Most folks thought we were somehow jipped having our birthday so close to Christmas, but it never felt that way; mom made sure of that! I have very fond memories of our birthday, even sharing it with my younger sister never felt to me as though I had been cheated out of my own day again, mom made sure of that, it was a special day, that we shared with each other. Mom would place our birthday gifts under the Christmas tree, so it always felt special as we received our gifts from under the tree it was like having two Christmases!
We had a Christmas tradition in the family that developed over the years; each member of the family would shop for that one special gift for a family member, the one gift that would bring the person to tears, or cause them to choke up and fight back the tears! As the years passed, we each had our turn. The year my mom and dad got me, was 1999. I was getting married, and so the entire family except for my younger brother and his wife were there. The gifts were being passed out by my dad, as was tradition, this is the ceremony I spoke of earlier! Dad would wear a Santa Clause hat, and “play Santa,” as we lovingly termed it. It became quite the ritual as dad would choose a gift from under the tree and pass it to the recipient as we all watched while they unwrapped their treasure. Often times dad would tease one of us, by reaching out to hand us the gift, and then as we reached to take it, he would snatch it back, with a smile and say “oh, I think this can wait for a bit!” He would place the gift back under the tree and pick another! After a while we would protest such action, and sometimes he would give us the gift, but this was rare! Dad did love to tease!
Waiting as each person opened their gift gave that person the lime light, and it also made the process last longer, again, one of my mom’s ideas to make that special time with the family gathered around the tree last longer. Growing up, I did not understand why we did this; I just knew it was wonderful. Now, looking back, I realize that my mother found great pleasure in having her family together around the tree, so anything that prolonged that moment pleased her. When the entire family and extended family were together, it took hours! One year it took 5 hours to open all the gifts! No, I am not kidding! It is a tradition that each of us has carried on to our own families!
1999, well, that was the year mom and dad, got me, and got me good! As the gifts were passed out, I had not received as many, and mom and dad were worried that I would be upset, so told me that since they were helping to pay for my wedding, that I did not receive as many gifts as the others (mom always tried to even things out among her children and grandchildren, that’s just who she was). I was not in the least bit concerned, I was just happy to be surrounded by my family and let’s face it I was getting married, so my focus was on that. As the last gift was opened, dad leaned into the tree, and pulled out a small ring sized box, and read the name tag, “To Andrea, from Mom and Dad.” Dad walked over to me and handed me the box, there was no teasing with this gift. I instinctively knew it was jewelry, the size and shape of the box gave it away, but what was it I thought to myself. Dad had banned me from touching any gifts under the tree years before; as I had gotten so good at guessing what was inside by merely shaking the package! As I unwrapped the package, I recognized the Black Star and Frost ring box and said out loud “no, it’s not!” as the tears began to stream down my cheeks. It was….it was “the ring!”
I remember sitting on my great-grandmother’s knee and playing with the ring, it was so beautiful, white gold, with three diamonds in a row in the center of the ring, and then a delicate scroll surrounding the center diamonds with smaller diamonds in the scroll work, a total of 16 smaller diamonds. It was circa 1920’s, mama wore it on her pinkie finger and I loved it! When my great-grandmother passed away it was passed to her daughter, my father’s mother, and when mom (we all called her mom, she was vain!) passed, it was left to my mother. As a young woman, I would ask to borrow the ring on special occasions, and mom would always tell me to guard it with my life and I did. That ring was precious to me, even then. Well, mom and dad had talked about it, and decided to give me the ring, before either passed away, so they could watch me enjoy the ring… and mother also said I could use it as my wedding ring. I have only removed the ring once, and that was on my wedding day. I am grateful that she and dad chose to give me the ring while they were alive, as now that mom has passed, each time I look at the ring, I am reminded of the pleasure it gave my mother to see me wearing the ring.
Christmas is and always has been a very special time of year for my family, and it was made special by my mother. She poured her heart and soul into the month of December and although my memories are wrapped up in the decorations, and smells drifting from the kitchen, spending time with family and friends the Christmas music playing and the passing of the gifts, mother always reminded us of the true meaning of Christmas.
Luke 2: 4-19 says:
“So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.
This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”
So with 7 days until Christmas Day, I look forward with anticipation, to the smells wafting from the kitchen, the mulled wine simmering on the stove, the velvety smooth eggnog, the fire burning, family gathered and the passing of the gifts. And although my mother is no longer with us physically, her legacy, her spirit and her love for Christmas lives on in each one of her children, and her grandchildren as a reminder of just how wonderful, magical and amazing this time of year is and what Christmas truly means.
WISHING YOU A VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS, AND A JOYOUS AND BLESSED NEW YEAR!