Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Celebration Changes

When I was growing up, we had a very set method of celebrating Christmas. It didn't ever change, and I reveled in the comfort of it.

We three girls would wake up (or my sisters would, and then they'd jump on top of me in bed, thumping me until I opened my eyes) and remove our stockings from where they hung on the chimney. These we were allowed to open in bed, pawing through the chocolate coins and new socks and silly, fun toys.

Then we'd gather in the living room, all five of us. Someone (usually Dad) would play Santa, handing out our gifts until we had piles stacked in front of us. I had a methodology established for opening: I'd scan each gift, opening what I guessed to be the most boring gifts first, saving the most interesting/exciting for last (a few times I got this wrong, and opened the pajamas or the underwear last -- the feeling of let-down was weighty, even if I'd already received amazing gifts).

Then, one by one, we'd go around the circle opening our gifts. It could take hours, especially since Mom folded each piece of wrapping paper to be saved for future years. Afterward, hyped on stocking sugar, we'd eat homemade stollen and then we'd retire to our various corners to read our new books for the rest of the day. It was a pretty great tradition, culminating in flaming plum pudding for dinner.

This year was our third Christmas without Mom, and it was the first truly okay one. The last two were so painful I could barely breathe through them. But last Sunday, almost a week before Christmas, my sisters and I piled in the station wagon and headed south to Dad's. When we got there, we had a new Christmas. A night celebration with old family friends, we sat in the living room in different places. I'd always sat in front of the fireplace; this year I was on the couch by the window. Dad passed out the gifts, but instead of going around the larger circle one by one, we just ripped into them, like I'd always wanted to do as a kid.

Even the house was different -- Dad's girlfriend Lola moved in not long ago, and it's become (rightly so) her home too. The walls are a different color, a pale sea-green. Her decorating flair is more pronounced than my mother's was. A different smell hangs in the air -- the scent of Mom's house was like rain-washed leaves, while Lola's house smells more floral. I was glad for this -- it made it easier to be there somehow, and even after giving it some thought, I'm not clear why this was true. Perhaps it was that Lola had made it her own, rather than slipping into my mother's place which would have been harder to deal with? Or that there were simply fewer sense-related memories to battle?

But that made it right, and good, and FUN. My mother's best friend Gaynelle was there with a different husband, not the man I'd grown up knowing. Her son Sven, whose diapers I used to change when I babysat him, now looks like his father Rick, and he's just about the age Rick was when we first met him many years ago. But Gaynelle's laughter was just the same and I heard her gift with puns echoed by her other son, Leif, whose two small girls rocketed around the house the way we used to. It was home. (But now, as an adult visiting my old home, I stay in the local Motel 6 down the road, and I have to say, the part of me that pulls out my debit card to pay the room charge celebrates also.)

Then, on Christmas Even, back at home in the Bay Area, my sisters and a couple of assorted loved ones came over for drinks after I got off work. There was almost no prep (I did make homemade egg-nog), and we didn't decorate. We were just together, and I loved that small celebration with all my heart.

Life is so different than it was even just a few years ago, but the feeling underpinning the celebration of it is still love. And I'm grateful for that.

9 comments:

toni in florida said...

love and gratitude are as close to perfection as humans get, i think. hugs to you and yours now and every day.

Sophie Littlefield said...

we expect our traditions to be there forever, don't we? - and then one day when they aren't, we awkward-stumbly humans can take a little while to catch up. but this was a beautiful example of moving with grace into the next place we are meant to be.

Adrienne Miller said...

This was such a moving post, Rachael. Thank you.

Juliet Blackwell said...

Love this -- the nostalgic memories of times past, but also being okay with time (and ourselves) moving on. Lovely.

L.G.C. Smith said...

Oh. Sniff. It's such a relief to find out we can move on after loss and through changes.

Was your mother some kind of elf or fairy? How did she get her house to smell like rain-washed leaves? Because that would be a fine alternative to the damp dog and old book smell that pervades my realm.

Rachael Herron said...

HA! LGC, I'd love to know. It was a scent unique to her (very clean) home, and I'd love to have it too.

Gigi Pandian said...

Beautiful story!

Lisa Hughey said...

This was beautiful-you made me CRY!

We open our gifts one by one too, have since I was a kid. And I direct who can open what when. :) Prolonging the anticipation is half the fun for me since I usually know most every gift under the tree :)

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