It is already December 18th. Hanukkah has passed and Christmas is a week away. Excitement and anticipation are ever present. We are filled with nostalgic memories of favorite holiday traditions that we eagerly recreate in our homes for those we love.
For me, this truly is the most wonderful time of the year! Joy fills the air and we open our hearts to those around us.
Christmas has always been a special time for me. We didn’t have much growing up. My parents struggled to make their relationship and their finances work to provide for their three children and offer memorable holiday traditions. Yet a peace was felt in our home as nostalgia and custom seeped in during those cold December weeks.
There were piles of holiday cards eagerly sent and received. Dozens of cookies that my working mother always made time to bake were lovingly shared and greedily consumed. Candies and nuts that were unaffordable at other times were spread across the coffee table. The most extravagant treat was a large box of chocolates that found its way into our home each year. We could pinch before sampling to see if we had selected a flavor we liked. If we found we had wrongly chosen, we could return the candy to the box and my father would generously eat the unwanted treat for us!
The main event in our home was the tree itself! Selecting and decorating was an occasion. The tree was lovingly chosen and brought home – usually with a great deal of difficulty due to its sheer size—and placed in the stand. Impatient children waited overnight while the water was added to revive the tree and the branches could “drop.”
The lights were the first to go on, and oh the lights we had! Hundreds of bulbs decorated our tree. Strand after strand were added with my mother directing my dad to swap the bulbs so no similar colors would ever be side by side! Ornaments were nostalgically added next, as all three children swooped in to do their share! Again, my mother had the last word as to exactly where and how each ornament would be hung. We were willing to take her directions in stride as we knew we always had the most stunning tree around!
Finally, the “tinsel” had to be hung. This job fell only to my mother. There was no one else in the house qualified to painstakingly hang strand by strand the thousands of icicles that would cover the tree from the bottom to the top! Impatiently we waited until the job was completed, the star was affixed, and the tree was aglow. Each year, we were filled with awe at the spectacle. We were confident that Santa would never miss the home of the family with the loveliest tree in the world!
It was difficult to continue with the routines of school and work as the countdown to Christmas continued. When Christmas Eve finally arrived, the excitement was almost too much to bear. We were scrubbed down and dressed up for Midnight Mass and sleepily carried back into the house after the solemnity of the religious celebration. Of course, we found the energy to unwrap the one gift we could open each year before Christmas morning. Even though we quickly learned what would be inside the package, we eagerly ripped open the package, slipped on the new Christmas pajamas, and willingly stumbled to bed – unaware that our parents would remain awake most of the night placing the few packages we would receive under the tree before stumbling into bed themselves.
In the morning, we awoke to stockings filled with nuts and fruit. Our gifts were always practical for children living in the cold Midwest. Our new Christmas pajamas, slippers, robes, and ice skates to accommodate growing feet. But the holiday was always a special occasion that we shared and enjoyed with only the five of us. After a huge breakfast around our beautiful tree, we would all load into the car and drive into the city to view the extravagant displays of the Chicago department store windows. It was an enchanted experience each year – no matter how cold the weather – a holiday tradition that I treasure to this day! After returning home, we would light the tree, change back into our Christmas pajamas, enjoy the ham and fixings my mother would prepare, and settle in to savor the remainder of the day.
When I was grown, married, and had my own children, I wanted to replicate and expand the memories of my favorite holiday traditions. The tree remains the favorite holiday tradition. Stockings are filled with thoughtful little gifts rather than fruits and nuts, and the candies and nuts on the coffee table have been replaced with scented candles and greenery. Yet the love, excitement, and nostalgia of the holiday traditions remain as we anticipate the season and our time together.
So, whether you have already enjoyed your holidays or are eagerly anticipating what still lies ahead may you appreciate your memories and favorite holiday traditions. Surround yourself with those you love and accept my holiday wish to you. Let there be peace on Earth and let it begin with me.