This year we obviously won’t be traveling for Christmas. So I thought I’d spend some time thinking about the Christmases I’ve had, hoping that next year we’ll be able to celebrate the way we hoped to this year.
First off – I don’t identify as Christian. My dad is Catholic (not been to a mass not associated with a wedding or funeral that I know of since I was born), and my mom was raised in some version of Protestant. Growing up, we were what I’ve heard referred to as submariner Christians — only surfacing on Easter and Christmas. But even that stopped when my mother’s mom died. Other than a brief phase in high school where I actually got baptized and confirmed (don’t ask), I’ve not felt Christian. And at this point I don’t believe in any version of God, but I know that culturally, the Christmas holidays mean something to me. Not because of Jesus (though, if he existed as described, sounds like a pretty cool dude), but because of the fun times with family and friends.
I don’t think we ever traveled for Christmas. Until I was a teenager, that was reserved for Thanksgiving. We’d drive down to southern California and visit both sides of the family, having Thanksgiving dinner at my dad’s parents’ house. The Wednesday before we’d go to Disneyland, which was AMAZING.
But for Christmas the only family we’d see outside the immediate was my mother’s mom, and she went into a nursing home when I was six, so after that it was just the four of us, with partners added in later.
There are certain decorations that evoke the holidays for me.
- This green ceramic Christmas tree that my mom puts Hershey kisses or peppermint patties in. One year our dog got into it while we were out. (She was fine)
- This other green ceramic tree, with lights, that plugs into the wall. It was always in one of the bathrooms. Don’t know why.
- My maternal grandmother’s fabric advent calendar, with elves and Santa and other associated plastic bits, that stuck on with Velcro. Santa’s sleigh was always the 24th, with Santa on the 25th.
- These four separate ceramic angels, that when put together, spell NOEL. These go in the china cabinet, and must be reorganized regularly to spell LEON or LONE.
The tree has lots of different ornaments, some special (ones my sister and I made), some just pretty. The star my sister crafted in Mrs. Allio’s third grade class is always on top.
We have stockings my maternal grandmother made (or bought? Unclear). Had them our whole lives, and even now they still get hung, and there are still treats in there from Santa. Santa (my mom), no joke, would individually wrap in tissue paper every item in the stockings, which included things like travel toothbrushes and candy canes, but also as we got older, postage stamps and lottery tickets. In later years my sister and I have done stockings for my parents as well, usually with movie tickets and candy inside. Those get opened on Christmas morning, before breakfast.
Food. Oh, the food. It’s not a huge non-stop feast, but there are some things. Like fudge. Delicious chocolate fudge that I make every year, no matter what. Even in London, where finding marshmallow fluff has been a challenge at times. My mother makes tons of it, and gives it away to neighbors, the letter carrier, anyone really. It’s legit the best fudge I’ve ever tasted.
Then the sugar cookies. We think it’s a recipe from an early-edition Joy of Cooking. It’s so good – it’s the almond extract. But the cookies are made fairly early on, in shapes like bells, stars, candy canes. And then they are iced. Yellow icing is lemon, green icing is peppermint, and red and blue icings are almond. That’s just the rules. My sister, mother and I would sit around icing them, while my dad watched basketball. I make them now, and end up freezing a bunch because they are SO GOOD frozen. They’re a pain to make but I love them.
Peppermint stick ice cream. The Baskin Robbins version is the best. I think some shops carry it year round now, but the arrival of it to the local shop at the Clocktower (why yes, I did grow up in a suburb out of a Hallmark film, why do you ask?) signaled the start of Christmas to me.
Christmas morning was eggs, potatoes, fruit, and cinnamon rolls. The Pillsbury kind, nothing made from scratch, because the Pillsbury ones are frankly the best.
Sometime in the week before Christmas, we go look at the lights. Often we’ll eat Mexican food first at a local restaurant I like. That’s probably not the best idea when the following activity is sitting in a car with the windows up for an hour or so, but we manage. We play Dean Martin and Nat King Cole Christmas songs and drive around. Some neighborhoods are absurdly decked out, and a lot of people put in the effort.
Christmas eve, one gift. When we were little, it was usually the gift from one of our Aunts and Uncles. In later years, we’ve switched to just giving books, which is really fun, as we are all voracious readers.
When I was 29, I spent Christmas away, because I’d come back to London for graduation. I hung out with a friend in the Lake District. Neither of us are British, and so didn’t realize that everything is actually closed on Christmas. Not most things, EVERYTHING. After that, Austin and I spent one Christmas up in Seattle together. Once we moved overseas, we figured we’d alternate US and UK. So in 2018, we rented a house in Scotland for a week. The owners decorated it for Christmas, we went on walks by the sea every day, and read lots of books. Magical. Last year we had tickets to go back to the US, but our visa situation meant that we couldn’t travel, so this year we were going to make up for it. Except once again, we’ll be in London.
I’ve made a gingerbread house this year, and hung some decorations. We have a tiny tree my niece has named Nigel and my friend has rightfully mocked for being more of a Christmas shrub. Austin and I both have two weeks off. But it’s a pandemic. My parents will be with each other, and we’ll do a Skype or Zoom call and play cards and hang out remotely, but it sucks.
So I think of the memories, and think about how hopefully we’ll get to do them again next year.