Family Christmas traditions are treasures beyond measure. Some of my fondest memories are of Christmas.
The aroma of hot chocolate steeping on the stove and pecan pies baking in my mama’s oven on cold December mornings told me that it was finally Christmastime.
Soon the tree would go up with popcorn ropes, tinsel, spun glass angel hair and bubble lights silently fizzing away the seconds until Santa arrived.
Families are living portraits and time changes Christmas traditions. Kids get married and bring grandkids into the picture. And sometimes Christmas traditions are forever altered when we lose a loved one.
Both Jilda and I learned this lesson when our parents died, but it holds true for every family.
My traditions changed when I married Jilda. We celebrated Christmas Eve with my family and Christmas Day with hers.
Christmas at my parents’ home was a madhouse when my brothers and sisters grew into adults and started families. We’d all meet just after dark at mom’s house and often we’d find members of our extended family who had come by as well as friends who had no other place to go on Christmas.
Mother always had ham or turkey laid out on the table for munching. But the sideboard was filled with what she did best. Homemade fudge, divinity candy, pies, cakes and cookies to die for. If anyone left without a sugar buzz they had no one to blame but themselves.
Migrating to the living room, we jockeyed for position around the mountain of gifts beneath the Christmas tree and once the gifting began, the living room turned into a sea of toys, discarded wrapping paper and bows.
One Christmas a niece who was still in diapers pulled a bow from her gift and stuck it on Mama Watson’s arm. Everyone laughed at the gesture which was enough to encourage the other kids to join in the sticking fest. By the time all the gifts were opened, Mama Watson was a Christmas rainbow and a new tradition was born.
We trudged on when my dad died in 1986, but when my mom began having health problems our Christmas traditions changed dramatically.
Christmas at the home of Jilda’s parents was just as wild as it was at our house, but there was more focus on food. Except for the two years I was away in the Army, I spent every Christmas day with her family from 1968 until her mother passed away. She was the duct tape that held that tradition together and when she was gone, their traditions changed, too.
This past weekend, our good friend Billy invited us to his house for a Christmas party.
Through the years, visiting Billy and Nila’s house always ended up on the holiday highlight reel. Their gathering put the joy in Christmas. No matter how stressful the holidays were, no one ever left Billy and Nila’s house without a smile on their face.
This year’s celebration was a good one too, but it was bittersweet because Nila, who’d been the love of Billy’s life for over 50 years, died in February.
His house was wall to wall with people Saturday evening. Old friends who’ve stuck together through the years came to enjoy each other’s company.
Billy has a lot of support to help him through the holidays, and he will make it through, but I know from experience that Christmas will never be the same.
Jilda and I wish you a Merry Christmas.