The truest December memories

923765_16938447-sqWhat does December mean to you?

And don’t answer in that commercial-versus-religious-holiday argument way.

What does it mean to you?

Is it the gifts?

Or was it the gifts, but now it’s something different?

What smells, shapes, visuals, tears come to you when you think of the holidays? Who is with you?  Who isn’t?

For me, it changes depending on which year I attach to the memory.  As a young kid, it was all adrenaline and restless sleep. Matching holly-themed nightgowns. Being banished from the living room, overhearing the adults joking and wrapping with us wondering desperately in the wings. It was the fake fir-tree scent sprayed on the plasticky, familiar tree that we used every year, and the sickening sounds of nails on cardboard as we struggled with red-plaid Scotch tape. The bitter and then too-sweet taste of mint chocolate bells, and the sound of stocking candy scattering on the hardwood floor. It was laughing watching my first dog trying to open a bone in previously-used wrapping paper that I’d mooched from a grown-up. It was the feeling of flying, knowing you’d be safely caught.

Later, it became the warm, gritty taste of my great-grandmother’s carrot bread. The awareness of time passing by. The struggle to become my own valued person instead of a faceless member of the loud tribe at the kids’ table. It was shopping for my own presents the first time and feeling like the properly chosen $5 coffee mug would change the world. Debating, also for the first time, which friends to gift gifts to and which to let slide; defining who mattered most and to whom I had to prove it.

Later still, the flavors changed to my own cooking. The absence of others. The reflection and salty sadness at the way things used to be, and the knowledge that I’m creating someone else’s used-to-be as we go. The smiles on my kids’ faces as they open and discover and rejoice in the simple, beautiful material way that is still somehow the opposite of greediness. In rougher years, it was even holding my breath at distant relatives’ homes, hoping my kids would remember to smile and appreciate it even when they disliked a gift. They did. Once, as an early parent, it was the fear of judgement, then the late-day realization that my parents must have felt this too, but decided to abandon themselves into all the doing, making, going, and being anyway.

Now, it’s the the tired feet and achy head and tangled hair that follow me from picture to picture, house to house, spreading the obligatory goodwill even when all I really want is a nap. The label of mother and the responsibility to line the childhood shoebox with the most idyllic fabric I can find. They’ll see the pins and duct-tape on the reverse side of the silk and the velvet when it’s their own turn. No need to spoil the surprise.

The joy, when the long day is over, that we’ve done it. We’ve done it. We’ve created a Christmas, and the family is warm and sound. A year has gone, it’s recorded permanently into the family annual, and we’re here, tired, together. There are new people, and many more missing every time, but who’s here matters, and the stories can stay, too.

The knowledge that these, these are the memories.

And we’re making them all the time.

What are yours?


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2 Responses to “The truest December memories”

  1. Cathy Lynn says:

    I’m not entirely sure what Christmas is for me now. It used to be the warmth of family, good food and lots of laughter. Singing in the kitchen while we prepared the meal, shushing kids out from under foot, a small dog begging for scraps.

    But, now that my grandparents are gone, the house we’d had Christmas in for nearly 30 years burned down, and the family is too big, too old, or too far away to come together like we used to – I really don’t know what it means to me anymore.

    Being single with no kids, any traditions I might have tried to build with significant others faded away with the departure of the significant other.

    So, I find myself in a strange place. The only thing that remains for me about Christmas is spending the day with my parents. Which is wonderful – but even that has changed significantly and I’m still processing how I feel about that.

    I guess the positive side to it all, is that it’s an open book now, for me to write whatever I want to have as a tradition or memory, or feeling 🙂

  2. Linda says:

    Christmas has always been my favorite holiday. When I was younger it was always about the presents, but I think there was always more to it–something that wasn’t fully realized or appreciated until my father died when I was a teen.

    While my mom and brother could really care less about the holidays–any of them for that matter, I make a point to celebrate Christmas. It’s still about the gifts, but giving them rather than receiving. Even on a budget I carefully choose presents and spend a ridiculous amount of time wrapping them while listening to Christmas music and eating candy canes. I bake cookies and hand-write special messages on Christmas cards while sipping on spiked egg nog.

    Christmas, to me, is about the past (traditions), the present (spending time with loved ones and the future (knowing that one day those loved ones won’t always be there). It’s a reminder to cherish what I have after a year of stress and worries, a reminder that a new year is right around the corner to look forward to.


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