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Well, I finally finished the Christmas shopping today. I still have a to-do list that is too long for the time remaining to do it in, and nothing that can really be left out. Par for the course.

All the same, I can toddle off to bed after a very loooooong day of shopping secure in the knowledge that at the very least I won't be disappointing anyone by not getting them anything, and that the gifts that had to be sent are all on their way soon enough to make it there in time.

Since Christmas in our family is a matriarchal tradition, almost all of my Christmasses have taken place at my maternal grandmother's house. She lived in southern Vermont, all very Norman Rockwell snowy and set in picturesque rural New England scenery, in a house built up in the hills in the late 1700's and old enough to have age-blackened massive hand-hewn beams, wide pine flooring, and a fireplace with a bread-baking to one side and a swinging iron hook to hold cooking pots over the fire. She died at the age of 97, and this means that Christmas is now in northern New Jersey. Not nearly as picturesque and stereotypical, alas!

It will be a big crowd gathering, at least 17 of us at last count (not including my sister's baby in utero), with all the hustle and bustle and chaos that that entails.

We will all be competing to produce the most succulent and elaborate dinner when it is our turn to cook, and the cousins will be weaving in and out of the adults' feet, desperately trying not to burst with anticipation, while everyone tries (it sometimes seems) to dredge up those moments when we were each most embarrassingly and undeniably ourselves, and the missing are remembered with fond pangs. None of the things served will be American traditional. No Turkey with all the trimmings. No Roast Beef and oven-roasted potatoes. There will be stuffed vine leaves, there will be leg of lamb. There may well be Asian dishes, Mediterranean dishes, and most of them will be the original recipes of the cook for the night. For many years my Grandmother took us out for Chinese for Christmas dinner, and my kids are still a little indignant that Christmas dinner no longer has Peking Duck and hoisin sauce!

There will be breakage, and frayed patience, and tears of joy. There will be the inevitable broken toy tragedy, a gift that everybody marvels at because it's just so right that really we all should have thought of it, and far too much candy.

There will be no room to move by Christmas afternoon, between the people, the stuff, and the bags of ripped and discarded wrapping. The best wrapping will be carefully and reverently folded, and put upstairs by my mother for re-use.

There will be stockings for every blessed one of us, and some of them, thanks to a competition some years back that got a little out of hand, will be simply ENORMOUS.

There will be singing of carols acapella, since my mother doesn't have a piano, with harmony. My husband was in the choir for years and knows the base parts to so many carols! Two of my daughters between them know many of the alto parts, although they are both more comfortable as sopranos.

We'll eat Christmas Eve and Christmas dinner on the Royal Copenhagen china and with the silver service that we have always used, because my mother has my grandmother's dishes and silver now.

Some of the gifts will be labeled with tiny writing well camouflaged in the pattern of the paper, so that the children sorting and delivering will have to hunt, and the orgy of greed cannot begin too soon. This will be a good thing, because we always have to wait for a sleepy night-owl of an uncle to drag himself into the day, bleary-eyed and feeling blindly about for the strong cup of coffee someone will thrust at him.

Some of the packages will have to be carried off to the people in the family who read Arabic to have their labels read aloud so we know who gets them.

Every few years there will be a gift so fascinatingly and horrifyingly hideous that it will echo around the family for a few years, finding its way into a stocking of the unwary. For some fifteen years it was a can of haggis. We are a gastronomically adventurous family, but we just couldn't imagine that that could possibly be improved by canning.

Just about every year someone gets a gift that becomes a family obsession for a while, because it is so silly, or so fun, or so difficult, that everyone wants a turn with it.

Some will go to Midnight Mass. Not all of them will be Christian. Some will simply be the curious and the gregarious.

Jokes and allusions will be made in at least five languages, sometimes in order to speak of stocking matters without testing the faith of the true believers. Somehow we always seem to have a supply of them, because just as my mother's got old enough to outgrow that, I had some of my own. Now my sister is enlisting us for at least the next eight years, and after that my kids may well be starting to provide!

In short, we'll have the rollicking bustling Christmas that is common in large families.

I'll be a little busy, so if I don't see you before New Years, I wish you the joy of the season. As the sign outside the hardware store down town says (rather dryly - this is a small town, overwhelmingly Christian, and inclined to think that the world has always been and will always be as Norman Rockwell painted it from the life) "May your personal choice of a seasonal celebration be empowering!" I say it with irony too, but mine is warm, inclusive, friendly irony, because really, inside, where we are all just people, I mean it.

Please don't be offended by any silence. Know I'm just to busy in real life for a while. I'll be back and being verbose again before long. I promise!

Comments

( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
lolmac
Dec. 22nd, 2010 04:55 pm (UTC)
Wow. Even when they were good (and they're getting better), my Christmases were never like that.

Have a lovely one!
bluewillowtree
Dec. 22nd, 2010 07:50 pm (UTC)
This sounds like a lot of truly wonderful traditions, even if they're not in as pretty of a location as they once were. And now I'm wishing that we could go to to my aunt and uncle's house this year, where, in my mind, Christmas is supposed to be. Alas, the husband works in retail, so traveling Christmases are only possible every couple of years. But mostly, this just brought back happy, if not exactly similar, holiday memories, and that's only ever a good thing.

Best of luck with your to-do list, and have lovely and happy travels and holidays.
sjhw_tolerance
Dec. 23rd, 2010 01:52 am (UTC)
Enjoy your Christmas and I'll see you on the flip side!
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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A Few Words from the Wise

Speak to him, for there is none born wise.

-The Maxims of Ptahotep

~~~~~~~~~~


In mourning or rejoicing, be not far from me.

- an Ancient Egyptian Love Song

~~~~~~~~~~


But your embraces
alone give life to my heart
may Amun give me what I have found
for all eternity.


-Love Songs of the New Kingdom, Song #2

~~~~~~~~~~


To Know the Dark


To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is travelled by dark feet and dark wings.


-Wendell Berry

~~~~~~~~~~


Up in the morning's no for me,
Up in the morning early;
When a' the hills are covered wi' snaw,
I'm sure it's winter fairly.

-Robert Burns

~~~~~~~~~~


Visit to the Hermit Ts'ui


Moss covered paths between scarlet peonies,
Pale jade mountains fill your rustic windows.
I envy you, drunk with flowers,
Butterflies swirling in your dreams.


-Ch'ien Ch'i

~~~~~~~~~~


Mistress of high achievement, O lady Truth,
do not let my understanding stumble
across some jagged falsehood.


-Pindar

~~~~~~~~~~


Every Gaudy colour
Is a bit of truth.


-Nathalia Crane

~~~~~~~~~~


I counted two-and-twenty stenches,
All well defined, and several stinks.


-Samuel Coleridge

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