Well it is that time of year again. Holidays in my family have been a bit inconsistent, but that is just because my family is a bit inconsistent. Maybe that is not quite fair, or not quite the right descriptor. I have some herky-jerky childhood memories of winter holiday season; the fake, white plastic tree that my gram had that had to be assembled and always seemed strange to me, the somewhat awkward dual gift unwrapping events -one at home and one at my dad’s place, the wondering what sort of incomparably fantastic gift my best friend down the street may have gotten that year. Gifts in general are a bit weird in my family, many of us often neglect to send things to one another on time and I will be the first to admit that I am one of the worst offenders in this realm. That is except for my Mom, who is incomparable in her own right about sending stuff. She is always “Johnny-on-the-spot” with the sending of gifts and cards. She sends cards for all sorts of holidays and never misses a beat, and I can always tell when a package is from her; wrapped meticulously in plain brown paper (often re-used paper bags) and heavily taped. I should thank her more for all of that.
Of course we all have memories of past events; some good some ill. Habitually I have tended to dwell on the latter when it comes to holidays. Makes it easier to cultivate the Scrooge/Grinch image and attitude, and I am not the only one in the family to act thusly. Some might say I get it honest. Anyways, I would rather focus on the former this time around. Problem is, as I mentioned, some of those early memories are a bit herky-jerky, there are however some themes that I recall as more consistent than others and as such am rather fond of them.
As a kid of course one is inclined to be overly focused on gifts… admit it. One of my favorite childhood holiday memories is lazing about on the floor poring over the Sears Wishbook, circling all of the cool toys I would hope to get. I know now that gifts are really not the point, but perhaps neither are some of the more esoteric traditions that run amuck out there this time of year. Rather I think family and friends are what should be celebrated…that and the coming of a new year and especially in these parts, the promise of the sun’s return. But, still, I had a grand time dreaming of this sort of thing. Collecting Star Wars toys and the like was a pretty big deal back then… I still have a storm trooper action figure on my desk at work.
Then there is the traditional holiday film viewing. Some would watch “Miracle on 34th St.” or “White Christmas” or whatever, I preferred “A Charlie Brown Christmas”, “The Grinch who stole Christmas”, and of course who could forget “A Christmas Story”!
On another note all together my Mom was born and raised in Germany and she brought one particular tradition with her that I have especially fond memories of; that is the use of candles as decoration during the holidays. There was always a small bronze candle fueled carousel chime that I remember being fascinated by, something on the order of that pictured here (in fact the more that I look at this picture the more I think this is the exact one I remember…). I used to love putting it together and lighting the candles and watching it pick up speed as the candle flames got going.
The other part of this memory is the candle holder ornaments that were used on the tree. The little electric lights are nice and all (not counting the inane, American, Griswold-esque desire to overwhelm the neighborhood with lights and decorations or the seizure inducing flickering- flashing lights so popular of late) but the effect of candles on the tree is something altogether different. The tradition part of this was that we would have a friendly get together some nights before Christmas eve and towards the end of the evening everyone would gather in the living room. The candles on the tree would be lit and all electric lights would be turned out. Gradually everyone would go to the tree and make a wish –or perhaps say a prayer- and in so doing extinguish a candle. As the evening wore on there would be less and less candles lit on the tree. Likewise, folks would be on their way and by the end of the evening, ideally it would be very few people, at times only my Mom and me, with only one candle left lit on the tree. I have many beautiful memories of this tradition… another thing I should thank my Mom for. On the other hand, there are the memories of waking in the middle of the night to caterwauling and a horrifying crash only to find that the cats had brought the tree down in attempting to climb it… thankfully these two memories never crossed paths; one can only imagine flaming cats, flaming carpet, flaming tree, etc.
Another tree related memory is that my Dad and Step-Mom would give my step-siblings and I a new ornament every year. A number of years ago I got a box in the mail that had all of my ornaments, each labeled with the year it was gifted, to be used on my own tree. Yet another is the tradition that my Step-Dad started of purchasing a small live, potted tree that would be planted in the yard rather than going out and buying a farm raised dead tree that would just get thrown out after the decorations got put away. I do not have a tree for myself these days. The house is a bit small and I do not really spend that much time there. I suppose I could just hang the ornaments wherever, but I figure they belong on a tree and that time will likely come again.
Anyways, there you have it. Happy holidays to all of you out there, whichever holiday you choose to celebrate and in whatever manner. Whatever you do, take some time to ponder your own memories and traditions, your friends and family. Set aside the rigors of the past year and look forward to all the new days ahead! For me I will look for the ever lengthening days and light a few candles around the house.