Parents are the cement that holds a family together. Too many families are in pieces because the parents are in pieces, or gone from this earth, off to seek their fortunes, lost in ether space. Without the parents, families grow apart.
In Christmas past, the days of my childhood, family was a crowd. The Wert family get-togethers at Pap and Grandma’s house were the highlight of the year. Everyone came, every aunt and uncle and cousin. No exceptions. Grandma’s white farmhouse wasn’t big, but there were enough rooms to allow half a dozen private conversations to take place at once, and sofas for the men to stretch out and nap while the women folk cleaned up the turkey dinner. Then there was the Christmas gift exchange when I prayed my name wasn’t drawn by the cousin who only bought dime-store bubble bath in animal-shaped bottles. But when Pap and Grandma sold the farm, Christmas moved to community buildings, the church fellowship hall, and within a few years, dissolved altogether.
A new tradition began, one that, in recent years, I had forgotten had its own beginning. Some in the family would claim we’ve always done it that way. My parents, siblings, and all our clans met in the basement of the ranch house Dad built for Mom. We celebrated Jesus’ birth, and fed our hearty appetites and crazy sense of humor. Attendance was no longer necessary or always possible. Some were on call for their jobs. Some lived too far away. Others had to split their time between our family and their in-laws. Not everyone who came to the family gathering was a blood relative, but they were still family.
We held slightly altered traditions that filled the room with laughter and calories, music and reverence. A time of feasting, then trying to harmonize “O Holy Night, followed by “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer.” One never knew what ridiculous song the little ones might request. Wait a minute…I think I called for that one. We tried to imitate the operatic voices of “Good Christian Men, Rejoice” as sung on the Firestone Christmas album. Always, someone in the family read the Christmas story because we knew Grandma prayed her children would know the true meaning of Christmas.
We followed the sacred moments with an abundance of presents. The bundle of gifts carefully chosen, each child and grandchild receiving a gift worth not one dollar more or less than the others. My mother was masterful at buying all the grandchildren the same gift in colors to match personalities – bean bag chairs, stuffed animals, watches. It became a competition among the siblings to find purposeful gifts for Mom and Dad. All year long, we listened for Dad to say, “Boy, I could really use one of those.”
Evenings ran into the morning hours of board games that always left us amazed at the knowledge level of one or more family members. Who knew Gram Varner could sing the lyrics to Mick Jagger’s “Come on Baby, Light My Fire!”
But those sweet memories are only memories. Now, the little grandchildren from those first Christmases have grandchildren of their own. The mothers and grandmothers who called us to gather are gone. Without the parents, families grow apart.
…Unless we find ways to create new traditions. In Christmas present, we arranged a sleepover at a beautiful little bed and breakfast. The rich chocolate cake made a return to the table, and a different flavor of cookie might become the new favorite. My sister’s strawberry and pretzel dessert is already a tradition that is essential to the event. I’ve taken over the challenge of finding a new board game to keep us going through the night and partway into the morning. We sing, though some of the voices are missing. Now it’s my turn to pray that the little ones grow up to know what is truth and goodness. I’m the grandma now.
Christmas future – I miss the Christmases of long ago, but there are new memories to be made. Memories and moments with the young adults who are finding their way and becoming a source of inspiration and hope. Memories for the little ones whose eyes dance as they hold a present bought from the dollar store and fight sleep because they’re wearing new matching Christmas jammies. A collection of memories from the older ones who tell of Christmases long ago.
Life goes on, and so do the traditions we build into each special season, traditions that may allow the next generations to look back one day and say, “Christmas get-togethers were the highlight of the year.”
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