Friday, December 12, 2008

Christmas Eve Memories

Christmas is a time when you get homesick - even when you're home. ~Carol Nelson

Christmas for me has always been about togetherness, being with the family and friends who mean the most to you. The time of year when it seems people are nicer to each other. Differences are put aside and there's just a certain feeling in the air.

This time of year is also when I get a little homesick for past Christmases. Its more than just missing how things used to be, the feeling is more like little twinges of longing, a slight ache of the heart, a sadness for those who aren't with us any more. The happiness is still there, the anticipation of what the beautifully wrapped presents underneath the meticulously decorated tree contain and the aromas from the kitchen that waft into the living room gently reminding us of the feast that awaits.

As a child, one of the events I most looked forward to was Christmas Eve at my great grandmothers house. It was the one time of the year my entire family would be gathered together. My great grandma, my great aunt and great uncle, their family, our whole family, the cousins I typically didnt get to see. It was the one day out of the year everyone stopped their busy lives, slowed down, and took time to just be. Something we don't do very much anymore.

Growing up I often heard my mom tell stories about gathering at that same house, waiting for her uncle who lived out of state to get home. They weren't allowed to open presents until everyone was there. One year he was on his way home from either Buffalo or Detroit, there was a horrendous snow storm. Everyone waited and waited, the children grew antsy and the adults finally gave in letting the Christmas Eve rituals commence giving up hope that their brother and uncle would make it. Just as everyone was getting ready to leave, the door opened blowing in snow and the beloved uncle bearing presents in the 11th hour. I think its one of my mom's fondest memories. There is a Hallmark commercial with a similar 60 second plot line that makes my mom cry every year from the same homesickness feeling.

While I don't have any Christmas Eve memories like that where one stands out over the other, they were all equally wonderful in my memory. From the small white glossy ceramic tree with twinkling multi-colored lights that sat in the corner on the table top, to the fake plastic fruit in the Fenton Hobnail milk glass bowls, to the candles that were never burned in the matching candlesticks, to the sounds of everyone laughing and talking drifting from room to room. Together they all make up some of the best memories of my childhood.

I would sit on the floor with my back against the ancient record player that was a piece of furniture as much as it was a music player. Presents would be handed out and opened, always from youngest to oldest, with my great grandma going last. Wrapping paper would be crumpled into a ball and tossed from one person to the next, ribboned bows stuck on some unsuspecting relatives head. Gifts would be oohhed and aaahed over. My great grandma was always thrilled with whatever she received and as you might imagine, it was just what she wanted. After the last gift was opened, everyone would mill about talking, perhaps drifting into the kitchen to make a sandwich from the ham that had just been pulled from the oven or munching on a cookie someone had brought. Newly gifted games would be played. Adults would reminisce, we great grandchildren would chase each other around being shushed from time to time. After a few hours gifts would be put into cars, children bundled up tired and ready for Santa to visit, goodbyes said. Year after year it was always the same, constant, and I loved it.

As my great grandma became older, Christmas Eve became more and more important. I wanted to hold on to that tradition for as long as I could not wanting it to change, not wanting to admit that each year had the potential to be the final time. Even the year she had been sick, in and out of the hospital we still had Christmas Eve-she wasn't able to make the food or the cookies, or even buy and wrap the presents, but it didn't matter --we were there all together just as always. That year was the last Christmas Eve at her house. She passed away a year or so later.

Now just the immediate family--the aunts, uncles, and cousins all go to our grandparents house on Christmas Eve. We open presents, laugh and talk. There is always way too much food. We play new games and now my little cousins are the ones who anticipate Santa's midnight visit. I always look forward to the festivities but at the same time am homesick and nostalgic for the past. I am sad that the younger ones can't remember Christmas Eve's at our great grandmas.

While I usually don't go any other time, sometime around the holidays I go to the cemetery where my great grandma is buried. I feel like I need to go see her; to tell her Merry Christmas and that I haven't forgotten those special Christmas Eve memories.

This picture was taken my very first Christmas Eve at my great grandma's back in 1980.


Stacy said...

memories like that are the exact reasons why i love the holidays so much :) thanks for sharing!!

Cameo said...

What an amazing post! That is one of the most heartfelt, honest and tearworthy post I may have ever possibly read! It brings back memories of Christmas Eve at my grandparents and they, too, had a HUGE stereo that was literally the size of my loveseat. Thank you.

Katie said...

What a beautiful post, it brought a tear to my eye. Christmas Eves for me are very similar things. We all gather, talk, laugh, open presents, play games.

This is the first Christmas I'll celebrate without my Grandma. It makes me a little teary eyed just thinking about it. I'm thankful for all the years I had to spend with her, and all the memories of her staying with us on Christmas Eve.

Cherrie said...

Wow...what great memories. Your holidays sound very similar to my family's.

Like Katie's previous post, this will be the first Christmas without my Gram. She died in July.

I get teary eyed just thinking about her not being here this year. She always came to my parent's house for the day. She was my last surviving grandparent.

Thanks for jogging my memory of Christmas' past.


Cherrie said...

See above post...I am so teary right now, I can't even spell my name right...LOL


Ashley D said...

Those are some really great memories. :)

kc mom said...

Like other posters, you have managed to bring me to tears. Not because your post was sad, but because it made me realize that how true your opening quote is!!!!
What a beautiful post. What amazing memories. What a wonderful family!!!
PS--Your first Christmas was 1980?? God, I'm old!!!

Errant Gosling said...

I love old photographs -- they match such memories much better than the perfect clarity of today's one-click ease. Merry Christmas, and thank you for the warmth.

Frank said...

*sigh* I miss that feeling of anticipation that leaves you shaking and awake in bed the night before Christmas. I still get excited for the holiday season, but a large part of that is because I like snow and eating cookies and putting up lights everywhere. I'm lame sometimes :P

LBluca77 said...

Aaahhh how sweet. I love hearing about other people's xmas memories.

I love Christmas Eve. Every year growing up we would get to open one gift and it was always a new ornament for the tree.

Auburn Kat said...

Those curtains remind me of the ones that used to hang in the house I grew up in!

Christmas used to be a bigger deal in my family. Not that it's not now, but we just don't get together with everyone like we used to. It's just too hard for our grandparents so we go to their houses instead...

Lauren Elizabeth said...

What a great post! It sounds a lot like my Christmases. We used to always go to my aunt and uncle's house and the kids drew names for who got eachother presents. As my cousins grew older and got married and had kids, the family got too big to have one house. Now we have to rent out a hall, and I haven't been able to go since high school. In college it was always during my finals, and now I live too far away to come home for the weekend.

Anna said...

Great post. Great memories!

One of the reasons why I love the holidays so much is because of all of the memories you create!


Mandy said...

Stacy -- me too!

Cameo-- Thank you for the kind words! Weren't those stereos something?

Katie--Those memories are so special, even more so when our loved ones are gone.

Cherrie--This time of year spent with family and friends are so priceless.

AshleyD--They really are!

kcmom--yes, first Christmas was in 1980. LOL.

Errant Gosling--I agree with you about the photos. Thank you for stopping by the blog. Merry Christmas to you too.

Frank--thats not lame thats fun!!

Lbluca77--I wish we had an ornament tradition like that, I think it sounds like a lot of fun.

Auburn Kat--orange curtains were all the rage back in the day. I am glad that you all still get to go to your grandparents houses.

Coconut--rent out a hall? How many people are there in your family. Awww, I wish you could go, I bet that would be a so much fun.

Anna-- I am with you on the memory making! You will get make a lot of new ones this year with your nephew!