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)