Saturday, August 24, 2019

A Thousand Miles From Home at Christmas

December 20, 2010 by  
Filed under Main Blog

I haven’t gone home to my Mom’s for Christmas in three years. Usually I am working through the holidays or spending time with other family, all of whom are scattered throughout the country. Everything that is Christmas to me is because of the traditions that my mother created. This year I was finally heading home for Christmas, but with both of my dogs being old and sick, I knew I needed to be here instead, so I just canceled my flight. Sigh. So I will have to rely on memory and imagination to inspire me this holiday season. I can already see myself walking through the front door of my mother’s house and into the sights and smells of Christmas that I know so well…

I can picture the beautiful tree covered in ornaments that each tell a story of their own. Ornaments that were crafted on a kindergarten desk hang next to iridescent crystal orbs. Funny little frames with pictures of pets we have loved and lost over the years adorn the same branches as ornaments that my mother collected from all over the world. Our Christmas tree is the holidays all by itself, capturing a multitude of memories and freezing them in time. One year, my mother tried to send me a box full of all the ornaments that were mine so I could decorate my own tree. I went home to my mother’s that year for Christmas and brought the box with me. The ornaments belong on my mother’s tree, which is the only tree that matters to me.

Not too far from the tree, hanging on the mantle of the fireplace, are the stockings that my mother made when we were kids. My brother’s stocking is made from the jeans he was wearing when his team won the tee-ball championship a million years ago. Each stocking tells a story, and Santa still fills them up no matter how old we get. He always leaves me a bag of Werther’s Originals which it takes me all year to eat. Santa still leaves presents under the tree too, and Mom finally stopped trying to fool us with different wrapping paper.

In the midst of the Christmas tree, the stockings, the German Christmas pyramid, the little town of Bethlehem with the glowing star, and the sounds of Andy Williams, The Carpenters and Bing Crosby singing Christmas songs, there is the unmistakable smell of Christmas emanating from the kitchen. If you take a deep breath, you can smell Christmas Cream Cheese Cookies, Sour Cream Cookies, Hershey Kiss Cookies and Pumpkin Torte. Every year when we were kids my mom would give friends and family a package full of goodies, and if they were old enough, a bottle of her homemade Kahlua. I often find that most of my holiday memories are in the kitchen. As we got older, the only thing that changed was beverage choices…from milk or eggnog? to wine or a cocktail?

The main event for my family is actually Christmas Eve. By the time we get to Christmas day, we are eating leftovers, munching on cookies and snuggling up in our pajamas to watch old Christmas movies. Christmas Eve is when we really celebrate. Dinner always begins with my mother reading the story of the birth of Jesus from her father’s bible. This is a tradition that goes back to when my Mom was a little girl. Then we all take turns reading letters that we have written to each other. This is the part that always surprises our friends and loved ones who join us for Christmas. I never know if it because they think we are hopelessly cheesy or totally cool. Sometimes the letters are in the form of stories or poems, but usually they are just from the heart, saying all the things that we love and are grateful for about each person at the table. We always read out loud, laughing and crying and pausing for a long embrace when words fail us. Be warned: anything you write inside a Christmas card will be read out loud in front of the entire family. It’s fun not to tell newcomers this part!

Okay enough already – now we eat! The Christmas Eve tradition is a standing rib roast, which my mother always prepares perfectly (medium to mid-rare) and serves with baby peas, wild rice and warm bread. If my brother is present for the festivities, then my mom makes everything times two, because he eats as much as the rest of the family combined. Several bottles of wine are usually circulating the table, including another family tradition, sweet Italian bubbly. We eat and drink and talk each other’s ears off until we are stuffed and soused in the most perfect way. All of this wonderful food and drink, combined with the beautiful din of conversation, laughter and clinking glasses makes for a holiday soundtrack that I could hear again and again, knowing every note by heart.

Finally the evening winds down. The old foggies crash early and the younger folks stay up late nipping a little more homemade Kahlua from the liquor cabinet. We listen to music, watch movies, play board games and generally answer all of life’s greatest questions before we eventually give in to the tug of the warm cozy beds awaiting us. We all shuffle upstairs, usually carrying my twin sister, who could sleep standing up on a roller coaster. Tonight I think we will all sleep well. And just in time, I might add, for Santa to make her appearance before sneaking back up to bed. Morning will bring Christmas….and although I am over a thousand miles away, in my heart I am home.

Wishing you a holiday spent with family and loved ones…Cheers!

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