My family celebrates the holidays in small ways: I bake “Dad’s white fruit cake,” a tradition from my childhood and reminder of our Grandma Burgess, to my brothers and sisters; we find a local Christmas tree for the house, which I trim with ornaments purchased or made throughout the years, remembering each one with little stories as I point them out to my husband and boys (if they’re home) while I’m hanging them; we unpack the large stockings and hope the house has a fireplace on which to hang them; I sometimes decorate the dining room table with huge Sierra Nevada pinecones and tangerines; I bake gingerbread cookies (fancifully decorated unless I’m in a rush and then, they become gingerbread balls, still delicious but not fancy); i dig out my old Christmas music, the one time each year that I actually play the piano on consecutive days for almost a month, starting soon after Thanksgiving,the songs reminiscent of Christmas Eve church services when I was a child; we tour the neighborhood at night to exclaim over the various outdoor decorations, some done with such care and precision, others a bit haphazard (and then explaining, when our sons were young, that there father didn’t like to put up outdoor lights, so we make do with a wreath on the front door); we invite Doug’s family over for Boxing Day, December 26, as they usually go to their in-laws for Christmas Day; and we send cards, often with a long-missive to catch everyone up on that year’s events.
Sometimes the four of us would spend a few days at The Sea Ranch, a long stretch of land with architecturally-unique houses along the northern Sonoma coast, where we read, sat by the fire, walked for miles along the cliffs above the Pacific Ocean, ocassionall spotting whales but always seeing sea lions. The last time there, a few years ago, Christopher and Alex cooked local crab for the first time, a delight to see them drop the live crustaceans in boiling water and laugh as the crabs changed color. We also watched Christopher slip off to call Kate, who was on the East Coast, as their romance was in its infancy. It was a rain-drenched time, but no matter, we were together.
This year, Christoper and Kate will be at her family’s lake house in upper New Jersey. Alex and Glory will be traveling in Amsterdam, Denmark and Paris for three weeks. Doug and I will celebrate at our new home on Christmas Day, maybe watch a movie, go out to dinner, give each other socks (truly a tradition). His family will visit the following Saturday, not on Boxing Day, to accommodate schedules.
I decided not to decorate a Christmas tree this year. I already miss drinking my early morning coffee in front of a brightly-lit tree as the sky slowly lightens to full day, that quiet time with the wonder of a child up early, with the world news yet to unfold. This will be my first Christmas without my parents: Dad died eight years ago and Mom this past summer. Even though we rarely spent the winter holiday with them, we always talked and shared news of families and friends, sent token gifts (usually books), and of course, they were recipients of my fruit cake. I miss their presence, their love, warmth and inclusiveness. The holidays emphasize their absence, but they also bring me closer to my brothers and sisters.Traditions change but the love among us remains strong.
[Christopher, White Sands, New Mexico, December 2013]