Thanksgiving and Christmas have always been two of my favorite holidays. Thanksgiving because: a) the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade comes on; b) we always used to decorate for Christmas that weekend; and c) I get to have my great-grandmother's sweet potato casserole. Christmas because: a) I love "How the Grinch Stole Christmas;" b) I'm a huge fan of colored lights; and c) it's my second chance that year to have the sweet potato casserole. I've always been a very festive person, filled with Christmas spirit, and a firm believer that Christmas IS the happiest season of all.
Growing up, we had a lot of Christmas traditions. We went to my Memaw's house on Christmas Eve, ate finger foods (L'il Smokies, anyone?), and drank terrible punch made with ice cream and Ginger Ale. My Mom's whole side of the family was there, making no attempt to hide the crazy, warming themselves by Memaw's decorative fireplace (it used lightbulbs, plugged into the wall, and had tissue paper flames--no joke) and barking "Jingle Bells." Present time was a mad dash amongst the passle of grandkids. Most people wore their pajamas. Believe it or not, there was no alcohol consumed. Around 8pm, we'd go home, watch "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" and go to bed so Santa could come.
Christmas morning was presents, and a trip to my Grandmama and Papaw's house, which was the MUCH tamer side of the family, for breakfast casserole and country ham. My Grandparents lived in this big, beautiful house with tons of extra bedrooms to play in, and an in-ground swimming pool in the basement. Papaw always bought jewelry for the ladies in the family, and that was our "surprise" gift every year. Sometimes it was a bracelet, sometimes it was earrings, but we usually all had either the same thing or very similar gifts that he had shopped for and bought all by himself. Papaw spoiled the girls, especially me. We were very close.
Papaw died unexpectedly on January 24th, 2002. I was living in Chapel Hill going to grad school when I got the call one night from my Dad who was at the hospital, telling me that they "had lost Papaw." It took a minute to sink in. I couldn't figure out where they had lost him. I had seen him for the last time on December 27th, when I stopped at their house to spend an hour or so on my way back to Chapel Hill. He was good then, they were happy, and I will never stop being thankful that I decided to go over there that day before I left.
I've only been home for one Christmas since then. I have my own kids now, and it seems unfair to take them from their own home at Christmas. Plus, little kids don't travel well (at least mine don't). The one time we were home, everything had changed--both Grandmothers had sold their houses, for one thing, so family gatherings had to be shifted around. After 25 years of the same happy traditions, suddenly we were traditionless.
Being a parent, I see that Christmas is still magical for the kids, but try as I might, I just can't feel it. I want, this year, to try to start new traditions, to see if perhaps we can create that sense of wonder to some extent for ourselves or at least see it through the kids' eyes. I'm tired of bittersweet. I just want sweet.