I’m not a Bah Humbug person. I’ve actually been quite elfy in the past. I’ve always loved decorating, baking, gift giving and spending time with family, so naturally I’ve loved Christmas because I get to roll all of those things into one season. But as we get older, things seem to change. Family members pass away, taking traditions with them, people move away so the closeness and family time don’t happen as frequently, and children grow up and outgrow the wonder of the season. This has left me sitting here on December 26th, wallowing in self-pity, typing about how Christmas has passed and it didn’t really feel like Christmas at all.
My memories of Christmas growing up don’t center around the presents; they were always secondary. My memories center around food and family.
My neighbor would host our family, and other neighbors, on Christmas Eve. Every year, she’d make the most delicious candy and we’d eat enough to rot all of our teeth. Everyone’s favorite was her Rocky Road. A few years ago, she finally admitted to herself that I wouldn’t be marrying one of her sons, but I’ve always been family anyway, so she invited my kids and I over to learn how to make her Rocky Road. Sorry, it’s a secret family recipe and I won’t be sharing it here. In the past few years, her husband passed away and she moved a couple hours away to be nearer to her kids and grandkids. We still make Rocky Road at Christmas, but I miss the shenanigans of those Christmas Eve parties. We don’t have the closeness with our neighbors now like we did when I was growing up.
On Christmas, my grandma almost always made a turkey, her famous noodles and pumpkin pie. Her house smelled amazing, and it was always crammed with aunts, uncles and cousins. Noisy as hell. But there has never been a place so happy. It’s been over 20 years since we’ve celebrated Christmas in that house, and some years, a few of my cousins still get together but not the whole chaotic group like before. And it seems that since my dad passed and my brother moved halfway across the country, our branch of the family tree basically fends for itself, and all of my dad’s brothers basically do their own thing with their kids and grandkids.
And now this year, both of my kids are officially teenagers. My daughter is really close to her step sister so she elected to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas with her dad so they could be together. I actually encourage it because that way she gets the big family Christmas that I miss so much. My son, 17, took off for his friends’ houses just about as soon as he was showered Christmas morning. He’s too cool for us. My boyfriend is still on a custody schedule with his son so we were pleasantly surprised when his daughter dropped his son off to spend the day with us unexpectedly. Before he got there, I had been teasing my boyfriend that we’re at that in-between age where the kids are big but we don’t have grandchildren yet, so maybe we should be spending Christmas at the casino. Instead we watched a basketball game, went to the movies and then watched a football game, intermittently snacking on tamales from the refrigerator. In short, it felt just like any other Sunday. But it wasn’t just a Sunday. It was a Monday, and Christmas. And aside from the fact that most of the presents under the tree are unwrapped, there’s really no sign or memories to make it significant.
I want a do-over. I don’t believe in forcing traditions; they have to happen organically to some extent. But I miss the connection that the holiday used to bring. And I’m at a loss on how to bring it back. With family and friends scattered across the country, how do you find the connection to make Christmas feel like Christmas?
(ps, my title is a line from undoubtedly the most depressing Christmas song of all time. I have a new appreciation for it now.)