Long ago, when I was young, Christmas was a HUGE deal in my family. Back in the day when the entire extended family converged onto my grandparents house for a week-long celebration, starting on Christmas Eve, and going through New Years Day (which was is my grandmother’s birthday). Aunts, uncles, cousins galore. I remember the front room of my grandparents house, the ‘red’ room for its red Victorian decor, would always be decorated for the season. A Christmas tree in the bay window, evergreen and lights down the curved staircase. And presents. So many presents, that they spilled out into the middle of the room. We’d sneak in and shake them, all of us kids. Trying to figure out what goodies awaited us.
Christmas Eve was a tradition. We would attend Christmas Eve service at church, as was my grandfather’s edict, and afterwards we’d come home and have a huge meal. There would be laughter and food and one present. Just one. And then it was off to bed to await the early morning of unwrapping gifts and a huge breakfast of waffles and bacon and eggs and whatever else my masterful grandfather would decide to prepare.
Morning would dawn and everyone would gather in the red room and we’d all dive in. Presents would be torn apart with paper flying everywhere. Peals of laughter would echo off the hard wood floor and down the hallway. My mom opened the nightgown I got her and commented on how she loved the fabric, my aunt cried when she opened the ring she had been paying on that my uncle had paid off and wrapped in a giant box to surprise her.
Breakfast was a communal affair, around the big dining room table. Laughter always. Everyone talking to everyone. To the person next to them, to the person across from them, to the person standing in the next room. It was joyful.
The following week would be relatives coming and going, and New Years Eve would bring many of them back. Back to play games like Trivia Pursuit and the Victorian parlor game Peter Coddles and His Trip To New York (a great old game). Laughter, singing…always singing. One year, all my aunts and uncles got together and made of tape of them singing for my grandmother. It was one of her most treasured gifts. A one-time only family album.
New Year’s Day brought my grandmother’s birthday. Lasagna was to be had. Food, laughter, more singing. Time with the family. Family we didn’t see every day, but we did see several times a year. Back when we didn’t need a real reason to all come together.
Then, things just…changed. My grandparents moved into a smaller house…families grew apart…kids grew up.
I hosted Christmas’ like these when I first moved into my house. Christmas Eve I would have a large formal meal for my aunts and uncles and grandparents. Many people would fit into my house, and many gifts would be exchanged. That, too, changed. It changed with the death of my grandfather.
I’m not sure why it changed. I’m not sure who decided. I never said we weren’t going to have our Christmas Eve get together, but everyone just decided they didn’t want to. I still host my mom, two aunts and my blessed grandmother. My step-son, daughter-in-low and three grandkids also come. But the younger two, now 16 and 18, often voice how sad they are that we don’t have the big party like we used to, when I would put the Santa tracker up on the computer and the little ones would watch his progress.
But, time changes. People change. This year, it’s the usual people. We’ll have pizza and wings. We’ll share and few laughs and then they’ll go home. It’s always bitter-sweet. So happy to spend time with them, but so sad that it’s changed to what it is.
But all the same, I have my family. I have love. I have all that I can want. And I can’t ask for anything more.