Thursday, November 18, 2010

Surviving the holidays

When I was a kid, Christmas started as soon as Halloween was put away (which is the reason why I start playing Christmas music on November 1st now that I'm a grown-up and can make those sorts of executive decisions).

But back in the 70s when I didn't have quite as much power (but did have an alarming number of polyester pants), if the beginning of November was deemed too early to drag out the decorations, I just made my own to tide myself over. Construction paper chains and snowflakes worked well, although I callously tossed them aside for the breathtaking beauty of the plastic holly garland as soon as it made its glorious appearance above the fireplace hearth. It had multicoloured twinkle lights and everything - something no paper chain could ever hope to achieve.

My parents, whether they were conscious of doing it or not, created traditions that I still try to find a way to carry on today. The plastic garland melted in an overly-ambitious fire years ago - and our gas fireplace is too hot to allow a swag of garland anyway - but there are some things I cannot change. I will not change.

Christmas has an edge of sadness - I can't lie. I miss Thomas with an ache that sometimes threatens to double me over during the holiday season. And I miss my Grandparents, who were such a huge part of my life and of Christmases past.

But I love the season in all its tinseled glory, and I refuse to give in to the sorrow as much as humanly possible. It sits below my skin like a layer of winter fat, but I can hide it with big sweaters.

And I can ease it by indulging in the traditions that make me feel safe and cozy and loved.

I have a bourbon fruit cake in the oven right now, as a matter of fact, because my mom made it every year. She spent most of December trying to keep my dad from "taste-testing" it, but somehow enough managed to last through to the big day.

I tasted one batter-smothered, brandified raisin before I washed the mixing bowl, and it instantly transported me back to Christmas past. Kind of like my own personal Dickens-inspired time capsule.

The ornaments my Grandma gave me each year still find a way onto my tree - even the Santa Claus with the giant clown lips that we made together (I did the lips) - and I still get a brand new pair of Christmas jammies to wear on Christmas Eve.

There is comfort in ritual. And there is joy in creating new traditions, even if you don't have anyone to pass them down to.

Last year my niece said she'd visit me in the home if I promised to have my Christmas cookie party every year. It began as a distraction in 2005 when I needed to have something to do in the weeks leading up to what would have been Thomas' first Christmas - and when doing something "new" was critical to me, for reasons I can no longer really explain.

But now it's something that I know at least one little soul looks forward to. And the thought that it might become part of her cherished Christmas-past memories when she's all grown up means the world to me.

And so I bake. To distract, to comfort, to remember, to celebrate.


the misfit said...

I think I understand what you mean about the baking. I bake partly to imagine that I have a whole lot of people to feed and care for, even though, in reality, I don't. For me, infertility IS Christmas - without a house full of happy children. Part of me even believes that the reason the family never spends the holiday in our home is because we don't have kids. (It may also be because we only have one bedroom in our house - but even so, I'm pretty sure that when I finally talk my DH into buying a big home I can decorate for Christmas, we will still be told to come and visit other people at Christmas - because it's cheaper and easier to travel with just two.) And I always loved Christmas so much...I never thought it could be sad.

loribeth said...

Christmas IS tinged with sadness these days (I miss my grandparents too -- we spent every Christmas together -- as well as Katie, who was due in November). But I still love it, & while I don't do all the stuff I did before, or the stuff I would have made an effort to do, had we had children, I still have some "must-do" traditions, like putting up a tree & sending cards.

We still give our nephews Christmas presents, although they are both pretty much grownup now -- not sure how long that will continue. We used to tease them they were getting underwear, & one year I actually attached their gift cards to the waistbands of these gaudy holiday themed boxer shorts. They both still talk about that, lol -- & I love knowing that they loved that. So I understand what you mean aobut creating memories with your niece!

Illanare said...


areyoukiddingme said...

What a delightful tradition! Baking for the holidays is something my sisters and I used to do - and my oldest sister continues with her friends, since we're too far away.

Mali said...

Christmas is really a complex time for me too. I had both my ectopic pregnancies around Christmas, and so it's always a reminder. But like you I'm determined not to lose it, and I have traditions of my own - that I share with my nieces and nephews. And so I was filled with joy to see that your niece loves your cookie party. (What a good idea). And I hope mine will someday remember mini mince pies too. Or want my Christmas tree decorations.

kate said...

Thanks for writing this -- i also have all my little traditions but as the holidays approach this year i am very bummed out about the whole thing. Dreading another dysfuctional family holiday, i suppose. But maybe i will try to focus on the traditions and that will take me through. That, and chocolate.