!! CAUTION: Nostalgia Ahead!!
I've been saying, "Christmas is just around the corner" since July but guess what...Christmas IS JUST around the corner and Thanksgiving REALLY IS just a hop, skip and a jump away!
I have vivid memories of the Holidays. I can still see myself as a child, sitting on the dark wood floor playing my little 45 records in the heat of summer singing along to Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph, Jingle Bells, Silent Night...the list goes on and on. Mom would come in and make me put them away saying those were special songs that we only listen to at Christmas time.
In the beginning, according to mom, when she and Dad first started out it was more of a rule than a tradition that they have their own Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner at home and then go out to visit family. That rule translated into a beloved tradition for me. Not only the dinner at our house, but the tradition of going to my Aunt Mercy and Uncle John's house afterward. They lived one block over and we would just walk over to gather with the rest of the aunts and uncles and cousins that were there. I remember lots of laughter and everyone being happy...maybe my child like mind just could not conceive any worry, anger or tension that may have been present.
Even after we grew up the Holidays was a time when the family came together. When my oldest brother, Leo, married my sister-in-law, Pam, in Louisiana, it meant they would travel home to see us. There was a special buzz around the house with Mom cleaning and preparing for the visit and knowing they were coming into town. I think we actually even went to Louisiana one Thanksgiving, also. The best part for me being getting out of school early--give me a big "woo-hoo"! When my other brother, Chris, went to college at Texas A&M he joined the Band and the Corps, so he spent most weekends at football games and just trying to survive as a freshman at A&M in the Band and the Corps! I had undergone leg surgery that year (actually, the day) he left for college and was stuck in a body cast for six months. We had a home made calendar at the end of my hospital bed to mark off each day until he came home on Thanksgiving. I missed him terribly and remember how happy I was when we finally got to the last box without a big X in it! Then it came time for me to move away. My first year at Texas A&M was a real adjustment for me. Thanksgiving break was a double edged sword...finally, a nice, four day, relaxing weekend...on the flip side, not so relaxing because the long, sleepless nights studying for finals would start the next week. I can not even begin to explain the feeling of going home from college for the Holidays for the first time. All of those memories are full of happiness, excitement, joy and just plain anticipation of being home with the most important people in my life, my family. My heart swells just thinking of it.
Every year Mom and I would decorate the tree and a little on the inside of the house. The decorating was complete when we placed the old fashioned Santa face with the nose that lit up on the front door. I can remember sitting by myself in the living room illuminated only by the lights on the tree, after my parents had gone to bed. I would crank up the Kenny Rodgers Christmas album and just stare at and bask in the beauty of the decorations . Although, he seldom got involved in the preparation, the gift giving and all the hoopla of Christmas was special to Dad. Once I got older he would give us a $100 dollar bill every Christmas Eve day so we could go shop. He was quiet, strong and kind.
Riding around the "rich" neighborhoods to look at Christmas lights was also something we did every year, several times a season. Even though many of the families put up the same decorations year after year it was still a special time riding around with my mom and dad. Once my niece and nephews came along I remember loading them in the car to take them to look at lights. Again, even though they had seen them the year before (heck, even the week before) they always had that amazement in their voices and their little brown eyes. Once they grew too cool to do that we would take my cousins children and they too had the same reaction.
Of course, Christmas always included baking and making tamales! We have made tamales every year either before Thanksgiving or before Christmas. More on that in another post. I remember so many years Chris would spend hours baking cookies and preparing baskets for the special people in his life. Then, we would go all over town and deliver them. What fun that was, especially if it was nice and cold and a little drizzly. He and I used to get together early in the day every Christmas Eve to finish up our shopping together (that $100 bill Dad gave us was burning a hole in each of our pockets) and then we would go have nachos at any Mexican Restaurant that was still open! At first it was just us and then as the years went on our family started joining us. Next, the rush home to try to wrap all the gifts before our traditional Christmas Eve get-together at 6pm.
Ah, the Christmas Eve get-together. Sometimes we would have it at Mom and Dad's and sometimes at Pam and Leo's, house. It was always a small intimate gathering with lots of food and family togetherness and after much talking and laughter with each other, ripping the paper off of presents we had just wrapped hours before!! You should have seen the spread of food. We always had ham and cheese sandwiches, chicken salad sandwiches on a croissant roll, roast beef sandwiches on croissant rolls, a veggie tray, a fruit tray, tamales. Oh, and don't forget the chips and dips and all the different cookies!! I remember one year, early in Leo and Pam's marriage, we all waited for Leo to get home from work. We waited and waited. Then we waited and worried. Finally, he made it home, a little uh, shall I say "well-oiled" from celebrating with his works buddies. Needless to say, he got in a little bit of trouble. Once Ronnie came into my life I would not budge on Christmas Eve. My husband is a saint because he always allowed me that. He knew how important that particular tradition was to me so no matter what, we were in Bay City for Christmas Eve. Even the year our yellow lab was bursting at the seams with puppies. She ended up having TWELVE puppies that Christmas Eve!
Of course a Hispanic, Catholic Christmas wouldn't be complete without memories of Midnight Mass. I remember many a Midnight Mass the church so packed there would be people standing out in the cold (hence the term Easter/Christmas Catholic). Sometimes we would be those standing outside, my dad holding me in his arms trying to keep me warm and sometimes we were the ones inside, sitting falling asleep in the warm, comfortable uncomfortable pew. Even though I could not stay awake for Mass I was definitely awake enough to open presents afterward. My very favorite Christmas Mass was the last one I went to with my dad, Chris and my then fiance, Ron. For some reason we went to the children's Mass in the early evening of Christmas Eve so mom couldn't make it with us because she was preparing for the Christmas Eve get together, but her being there is the only thing that could have made that evening more perfect. What rich traditions. I remember feeling the connection among the family these traditions brought about.
I am sad that lately, I just haven't been able to get that warm, fuzzy feeling for the Holidays. I cant explain it...cant put my finger on it. The last few years I have said I am not going to Bay City for the Holidays because it just isn't the same, but I love my family and wont see them unless I go. So, I go. So, I just need to reconcile what I want things to be and what things really are, to put new traditions in place and begin new memories. It is so hard to do and I don't really see it happening this year. In a way I feel like I am being a spoiled brat. Maybe I am. I don't know. What I do know is that I feel a great sadness that things have changed and will continue to change. But, at the same time feel grateful to have these memories to pull me through these times when I feel so disconnected. And no matter what, I will always celebrate and be comforted by the greatest gift of the Season, the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ.