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.