This season has come too soon; the Christmas decorations, covering stores since before Thanksgiving, were so long ignored they ceased to register, carols were hummed but not digested, Christmas presents were left unsought until days before, and a grocery store bagger’s holiday greeting met a blank stare. Those decorations and carols are trappings, of course, string and glitter that can no more hold us together than December winds can drive us apart, but those trappings make a visceral impression I carry throughout the years.
I remember childhood Christmas Eves: long goodbyes at Granny’s house while I feared missing Santa Claus, belly full of potatoes and pies, counting the minutes until I could climb out of bed, the smell of oranges in my Christmas stocking and the turkey in to roast, and crawling into bed with my siblings, nestled beside Momma as she read The Night Before Christmas. Our copy of the poem was a pop-up book, similar to the one mentioned in Shelf Unbound’s childhood remembrances, and we each turned the wheels and slid the tabs to make sugarplums dance and Santa rise from the chimney. Those traditions altered as we grew and our family changed, but the memories are treasured.
Each tradition, whether decorating the tree, lighting the candles, or sitting down to a family dinner, holds the meanings amassed over holidays past and creates a frisson of excitement today. After spent wrapping paper is gathered up, broken toys are interred in landfills, and our time passes, we leave traditions for our loved ones and the memories they recall. As I begin final preparations and settle in to the holiday, I need to pause, to laugh at the sweet potatoes splattered on the ceiling and the tree boughs bared by the cat, to share a moment and create a new memory, because the cooking and decorating and reading are traditions for my family, and our joy and love become the patina absence cannot tarnish.