"Christmas is a season not only of rejoicing but of reflection."
~ Winston Churchill
I woke the other day with the sudden realization that this is my 76th Christmas and a flood of childhood Christmas memories washed over me. For no apparent reason. No dreams that I could recall. No family traditions binding me to the past.
Then again, I have been decorating with a vengeance and friends have called to say they will be visiting. And I have indulged in more than a few Hallmark holiday movies. You know the ones, filled with romance and fantasy, ideal families and happy endings. Simple plots and enough good cheer to last all year.
Our family was not filled with good cheer. Money was tight. Relations could be strained. But, somehow, we were at our best at Christmas.
I loved watching my mother bake cookies for weeks starting right after Thanksgiving. Enough chocolate chips and pecan snowballs, Spritz and sugar cookies, pinwheels and ladyfingers to fill the turkey roasting pan and several large bowls. All made with real butter and leaving an aroma that filled the house for weeks. Enough to give packages to all the family who came to visit. And they came - all six brothers of my dad, and the two brothers and a sister of my mom, and their children. They flowed in and out for days.
I loved decorating the real tree, purchased only a week or so before the holidays and laden with family heirlooms and silver tinsel that had to be layered a string at a time - I remember feeling so grown up when I was finally allowed to do so. And the cards, checking the mail every day to see if we received a card from someone Mom had sent one to, her cards signed in red ink for the season. She would read them, looking for a message, and then tape them to the archway to the living room. And count them, every year.
The other sure sign of the season - the music. Not only did Mom enjoy the traditional Christmas carols, (well, I think Rudolph was tolerated), but once we attended Catholic school, I sang in the church choir. And Midnight Mass was the second time Dad could be dragged to church, Easter being the other. Such a treat to get "dressed up" and sing before my parents.
And of course, the food. Both Mom and Nonna were great cooks. We celebrated Christmas Eve with Nonna who made pizza, from scratch naturally, and fried the leftover dough and rolled it in sugar, a treat for the grandkids. Then, returned for Christmas Day to a feast that took days to prepare and almost as long to clean up after.
Gifts were simple - coloring books and crayons, puzzles, roller skates, a game. And always pajamas and for me, and later my baby sister, a dress that Mom sewed. Gifts that appeared while we were at Nonna's. Gifts that I discovered Mom and Dad had bought when I finally noticed that Santa's name was always signed in red ink. Gifts that were given and received with love and appreciation.
We were at our best at Christmas. I think I'll bake cookies this year.