It Starts with Remembering: A Christmas Ritual
Christmas Rituals are everywhere right now. Lights! Trees! Shopping Sprees!
And decorating! It’s definitely at full throttle. I think I’m done though.
In the past, my Christmas decorating was very Martha Stewart-esse, with everything from homemade cedar garlands to red and green lights on the picket fence and rose arbor, to holiday themed soaps in the bathrooms and a reindeer throw on the couch.
It was lovely coming home on a dark December night, driving through the deep woods and up the steep driveway to those lights. As I climbed the stairs and unlocked the door, the front porch smelled like fresh cedar boughs. And the house was scented by clove studded oranges in a bowl on the dining room table and a live fir tree in front of the window.
Even Cody, our rescued Malamute, felt like Christmas, with his black and white mask, his thick fur coat and curly tail, and a couple of jingle bells on his red collar keeping time to his wiggling welcome home dance. Come to think of it, we did bring him home for the first time two days before Christmas.
BEST CHRISTMAS GIFT EVER!
It was all quite wonderful.
But the older I get, the more pragmatic and less sentimental I am.
These days I prefer decorating that is pared down to simplicity: Indoors– some candles, a few baubles and greenery; Outdoors– white lights in select fir trees, and a wreath on the front door. I like the house the way it is already–light and bright and sparely decorated. Christmas clutter just doesn’t do it for me anymore.
Or perhaps I’m just getting lazy.
I’ve got the Christmas spirit though. I really do. I just don’t feel I need to make a display of it anymore.
Sorry Martha, your icy stares and eye rolls won’t sway me. As a matter of fact, there are a few other traditions on the chopping block this year:
Christmas cookies–far too fattening for a couple of sexagenarians with symptoms of pre-diabetes. They’re out. Not that I won’t miss you kolachkes, but you were a bitch to make.
By the way, I love using the word sexagenarian and plan to do it a lot over the next nine years. It sounds so racy. And it’s so not!
Christmas shopping–over also, unless mailing a check to my sister to buy gifts for the grand kids and ordering a couple of small home appliances online qualifies. Who needs more stuff?
Certainly not this sexagenarian!
Christmas stockings–went the way of pantyhose, a long, long time ago. Filling stockings is such a pain. Not quite as painful as filling pantyhose, but close. They’re both dead to me. I thank God for leggings on a regular basis, because, like Him, they are so forgiving!
There are some Christmas traditions I don’t want to toss though. Like sending out cards. I love giving and receiving them. I just finished writing out my short stack of them.
There is something about a card with a hand written message that says “I’m thinking about you”, and this time of year, I want people to know that, yes, I am thinking about them.
Because I am–thinking about people. Remembering them. It’s not really considered a Christmas tradition or ritual, but it most surely is one. Why else would you send a card to someone you haven’t talked to for a year?
So I’m not some sort of sexagenarian Grinch. And I’m not a Scrooge, either, but since we are on the subject, consider this:
The spirits that moved on the heart of Ebenezer Scrooge began by showing him Christmas past. His renewal started with his remembering.
So for me, remembering is the most important Christmas tradition of all. I hope I will always have the where-with-all to practice it.
It’s the one ritual that has kept me going through the years. No matter how lonely, spare, lost or disappointing the year may have been, in December, I look back at the wonders of Christmas past, and it does my heart good. Even while it makes me sad.
How do I practice this tradition?
Most years I pull out the family photo albums so that I, like Scrooge, can travel back in time.
I can go all the way back to the very beginnings of my maternal family’s life here in America. Or I can visit my child mother, propped on a stool surrounded by her parents and sisters, posing for a family photo. Is it any wonder they nicknamed her Dolly?
I can travel back to my parent’s wedding, or to our little post war Cape Cod house, or to snowstorms in Connecticut, my brothers swathed in winter clothes, throwing delighted smiles at the camera.
I can even return to my very first Christmas and sit in my dazed Mother’s arms again, surrounded by my four older brothers, wild eyed and waving their gifts, beside the tinseled white Christmas tree in our tiny living room on Cricklewood Road.
I can stop and marvel at the wall to wall relatives and friends in party hats and party dresses, drinks in hand, crowding our kitchen during some long ago New Year’s Eve party, and wonder at how happy and free and alive they all are. I can hear their laughter again. I can smell their perfume.
There is smiling Auntie Kay, looking like a movie star, sitting next to Auntie Jean. Dad and Uncle Vinnie are looking a little drunk, and Aunt Mary is reacting, laughing out loud, to something funny, and perhaps ribald, one of them has said.
And see how pretty Aunt Hattie is, sitting on Uncle Joe’s lap. Someone way in the back, next to Daddy, is holding up a bottle of booze, and Uncle Judi is throwing back a drink. And there’s Mom, tucked in the corner, wearing a party hat and a great big smile.
The first time I saw this photo, I was a little taken aback at how wild and young my aunts and uncles and my parents appeared.
Until I realized–this was New Years eve, circa 1950’ish. Of course they were happy. They were alive. Most of them had lived through the lean years of the depression. They had all lived through, and survived, the Second World War.
And here they were, huddled in our warm little kitchen, safe, young and in love, looking forward to the best years of their lives.
Happy New Year indeed.
And this is the thing about this tradition–everyone in that photo is gone now. Some I haven’t seen for years and years and years.
But I can see them again, and I will, I’m sure, this Christmas Eve.
And I can celebrate with them.
And I can celebrate for them.
And I can celebrate Christmas, in my way.
I don’t need the Ghost of Christmas Past to take me back.
I’ve got this collection of photos, and this heart full of memories.
And I’ve got this spirit of Christmas…right here in my heart.
And I hope you’ve got yours too. It starts with remembering.
©All images and text. 2018 by Ilona Elliott