Friday, December 19, 2008

Christmas Memories Both Sweet and Sour

When I was younger, the Christmas season was my favorite time of year. Our household was in a constant state of activity as we prepared for the upcoming holidays. My mom always began our yearly ritual in mid November, when she painstakingly prepared the fruitcake batter for the numerous mini-cakes she would bake to give away to friends and neighbors. She made them early, so she could soak them in Brandy for a few weeks to “sweeten” the taste. And although I loved my mom’s fruitcake, I knew that many people I came in contact with had no stomach for the traditional Christmas fare, and would even turn their noses up at this sweet combination of candied fruit and nuts.

Then there was the decorating of the tree, which eventually fell into my hands when no one else had the time or patience to do it. And the making of the Christmas cookies, which filled the house with pleasing aromas of cinnamon, gingerbread and chocolate. The holiday season was also a time for parties and get-togethers with friends, and for a few short weeks, our social calendar tripled in size.

On Christmas morning, my father would always be up early, the smell of fresh percolating coffee wafting through the house. Then mom would get up and trudge down to the kitchen to make the “Bubble Ring,” a traditional sweet-roll type concoction filled with candied fruit and dripping in sweet, gooey caramel. It was made in a bundt pan by rolling mini balls of dough in butter and sugar, and placing them in the bottom of the pan, which was already covered in fruit and the caramel topping. When the “Bubble Ring” was cooked, and then flipped over on a plate, all the fruit and topping dripped down the sides of the golden browned “cake,” and we would all sit around the dining room table and gorge ourselves on the confection as we went around the table, opening our stocking presents one at a time.

But that was only after my Grandmother and Aunt had finished their morning rituals in the bathroom. For there was a sacred rule in my family that no children were allowed downstairs (where the presents were) until all the older members of the family were properly prepared for the morning’s events. And since my Grandmother and Aunt were traditionally slow when it came to completing this task, it meant I had to sit at the top of the stairs and wait patiently, my head swimming with images of what might be waiting for me under the tree.

My dad did not help matters much, as he would walk from room to room and let out little sighs and gasps at everything he found that was presumably from Santa. “Oh My!” he would exclaim as we heard him walk into the living room. “So many presents. They can’t all be for us.” This would be followed several minutes later by an equally loud and boisterous gasp as he entered the dining room to view the stockings. Pretty soon my mom was joining in, and they would keep the “pre-show” going until the rest of the family finally came down. The constant running dialogue, of course, got my adrenaline pumping so hard I would practically pull my Grandmother and Aunt from their temporary residence in the bathroom so that we could finally get the festivities started. And although I hated the waiting process, it was a necessary contribution to the magical atmosphere that Christmas created. As if anything was possible.

As I got older, the Christmas season seemed to fly by at a much more frantic pace. In fact, the entire Fall, from September to December 31st, was so filled with activities and parties, that Christmas became more of a blur. It was still my favorite time of year, but for much different reasons than when I was younger. Now I appreciated the opportunities it presented to reunite with friends and family I hadn’t seen all year, and the warm greetings I would receive from strangers in the street. For whatever reason, the holidays always seemed to bring out the best in people.

But the Christmas season is now also marred by a very sad occasion, as December 19th marks the anniversary of the day my father passed away. I had gone down to visit my mom and dad in Florida, and he had just come home from a long stay in the hospital, supposedly in better condition than he went in. Unfortunately, his condition worsened over the weekend, and by the following Tuesday he was gone. It put quite a different spin on the holiday that year, as we all struggled to process my father’s death, and still create some semblance of the holiday for the younger folks. To say it was a surreal experience is an understatement.

So though I still enjoy this time of year, it does not hold the same kind of magic it once did. The smells of baking cookies and fermenting fruitcake, the “oohs” and “ahhs” from my father on Christmas morning, and the manic excitement of opening presents---all just memories now. I am still surrounded by family and friends on the holidays, but now my role has changed. Now I’m the one who “oohs” and “ahhs,” helping to keep the magic and anticipation going for another generation of dreamers. And somewhere, I know my father is smiling down on me, happy that I am here to carry on his happy tradition.

But that’s just me. How do you view the upcoming holidays? (Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza or New Years)


Broadway Matron said...

Be grateful you have happy traditions to carry on and happy memories to re-visit. Some of us don't but even so ...I can still whole-heartedly wish a Merry Christmas to you and yours.

Jen said...

What a wonderful story. I can picture your dad strolling around downstairs making you crazy with anticipation.

My dad passed away two years ago, in the late fall, the first Christmas was tough, especially for my mom (and it still is) but I have come to appreciate all of the traditions that he instilled even if we hated them at the time. Fruit soup is one of them that I have passed onto my kids. Having the memories is a great thing to have and really what else is there but that?

Have a very Merry Christmas!

Henson Ray said...

Broadway Matron--I'm very grateful for the memories I have of Christmas...and other occasions...and often when I look back, it's with much softer, rose colored glasses. Sorry to hear you do not have such memories. I hope you can still find something good about this time of year to embrace.(Before the EVIL winter months of January and February roll into town.)Happy Holidays to you as well.

Jen--Thanks Jen. My father was very influential to me as well, when it comes to how I view the Christmas season. Though his brand of magic is gone, I still have happy memories of all the Christmas holidays we were able to share together. Have a Merry Christmas as well.

Roxiticus Desperate Housewives said...

Happy holidays to you, Henson... and thanks for sharing your bittersweet memories. Every time I stop by your site I am reminded of what a talented writer you are to be able to put your feelings into words so perfectly...I was so moved by your Blogging Out Hunger post on Monday.

Though my dad passed away in February 2002, it's a Christmas 2001 memory that stands out in my mind... I have a wonderful photo of him with almost-one-year-old London at Christmas. Bittersweet because I was hugely pregnant with her sister, Maddie, but my dad passed away a few weeks before she was born.

Just a reminder, I guess, that it is now our turn to create the magical Christmas memories for the young ones.

All the best,

Stacy's Random Thoughts said...

I think it's great that your dad was such a huge part of making Christmas 'magical' for you - and that you are able to carry on his traditions and pass along some of that magic. It may make your Christmas bittersweet, but I admire the fact that you are not letting it put a damper on your continuation of the're right, your dad is looking down on you and smiling that you are carrying on his happy tradition! :)

My grandparents came over from Sweden, so there were a lot of Swedish traditions that we observed for Christmas. One of which was opening the 'family' gifts and having a feast on Christmas Eve, then waking up on Christmas morning to find some magical gifts from Santa and having another Christmas dinner. It's been really fun for me as my daughter gets to the age of really getting into the magic of Christmas to be able to pass on some of the fun traditions I got to enjoy when I was a child. :)

Karen, author of "My Funny Dad, Harry" said...

It's so nice of you to keep the excitement up for the next generation. My husband and I have a quiet, mostly stay-at-home celebration. I miss not having kids around at Christmas, but times change. We still enjoy going to our special Christmas services and giving to charities. Also, it's fun to surprise friends with gifts for Christmas that they didn't expect. said...

What sweet memories of your dad at Christmas. I really enjoyed reading your story. Sorry to hear your dad has passed on. On a side note... I've got some link love for ya on my latest post, "6 Helpful Entrecard Dropping Tips". Merry Christmas!

Henson Ray said...

Roxy--Yes, I love passing on the Christmas Magic. Possibly even more than being the recipient. That is so sad that your dad passed away before seeing his other grandchild. Timing is sometimes in our favor, and sometimes not. Happy Holidays to you and your family!

Stacy--my dad's presence can still be felt even if he is no longer around. I find myself talking like him, acting like him, and even laughing his big hearty laugh. And thank God I have some receptive nieces and nephews to pass it all on to. Happy Holidays!

Karen--I think that's a great idea to surprise friends with something they didn't expect. Especially if it's a good suprise. Hope you have a quiet and pleasant New years!

Laura--Thanks for the link love. I will check it out.

desperateblogger said...

i too have beautiful memories of my childhood Christmas. the magical qualities of Christmas is long gone for me but i did pass on the magic to my kids and now to my grandson.

happy new year henson. the best is yet to come.