December 29, 2008 by 8junebugs
I love Christmas, most of the time. I like having a home that looks and smells appropriately festive — there really is something about pine needles and cinnamon that makes me want to believe in Santa Claus. And I love Christmas music like a fat kid loves cake.
Christmas in Vermont as a kid was pretty much what you’d expect from the movies. There was a lot of fudge and rice krispie chewies. For years, we made chocolates in plastic molds that lasted longer than anyone would have expected.
When I was little, I sang in the Christmas choir at St. Mary’s under the grouchy direction of Kevin the Organist (priests who could outsing K the O never lasted long at St. Mary’s).
After Mass, everyone headed to Memere and Pepere’s farm for Christmas Eve Dinner, which was Memere’s annual gastronomic triumph. And when I say everyone, I remind you, gentle reader, that my father is one of seven children. There was a new cousin every year for quite a while — I think there are 14 of us now, although it seems only three of us are old enough to really remember Christmas at the farm. Some of the details are a little fuzzy, but I do know that I was totally the queen of the kids’ table.
KidBrother and I could open one present before bed on Christmas. Magically, it was always new pajamas — very convenient for Christmas morning pictures.
My parents had their own ritual for after we finally went to bed. They’d break out the Kahlua and get to wrapping. I get my love of Black Russians from my dad — Mom drank Kahlua and milk, which still seems nasty to me. They’d never get much sleep on Christmas Eve.
(I like this tradition. But I like most traditions that include cocktails.)
Christmas morning, I’d usually wake up first and go wake up my brother so we could open our stockings together. We weren’t allowed in the living room until Mom and Dad got up, and we were supposed to wait for sunrise to wake them up. Once they were up, we had to wait for the coffee to be ready before we could start on the tree.
And then there was the year Dad tripped on the stairs and broke his nose on the doorjamb. Then we had to wait EVEN LONGER. GAWD.
We could take one of our new toys with us to the family gatherings, but it had to be something we would be willing to share, if asked.
For breakfast, we reconvened at Memere’s for ham and sticky buns and the World’s Best Eggs, which can only be made on Christmas morning. I’m going to tell you what’s in them, but don’t puke, okay? They’re cooked in the juice from the ham and a little maple syrup.
I know they sound disgusting. I know. So don’t eat them — more for me! I wonder if I can recreate them for breakfast on New Year’s Day…?
After exchanging gifts with that family we’d go to Grand and Grandpa’s for lunch and more presents. We have photographic evidence of how no one paid a goddamn bit of attention to which name they drew. Everyone bought or made for everyone until “the kids” — my generation — started getting married. Then we exchanged names among the adults and everyone still bought for the remaining and new “kids,” starting with Alexandra in 1998.
(And then a forest in Montana called and asked us to knock it off, already. Something about how being alive was preferrable to becoming cheap wrapping paper that we balled up and chucked at whoever wasn’t looking…)
There was singing and hugging and laughing…
It sounds like a lot of running around, and it was. Remember, though, that my family lived within 3 miles of both sets of grandparents; even after Pepere died, Memere only moved into town — so, within 5 miles.
This year, I decorated a bit and called a moratorium on most gift-giving. Frankly, I was a little pissed off that Christmas couldn’t come fast enough for Mom to have one last hurrah, but then ALLOFASUDDEN it was a week away.
(To be fair, however, she would’ve hated this winter. I haven’t seen that much snow during a trip to Vermont since…1999/2000? I remember shoveling the car out that year, but later in the season.)
Both sides of the family switched to the Yankee Swap format this year — one present each, selected in order of number drawn and stolen/switched in compliance with minimal guidelines. (Don’t tell Uncle Jerry, but I didn’t want the quesadilla maker anyway. I don’t have the counter space!)
The highlight for me this Christmas was spending some time with the Gingras cousins I haven’t seen in ages. I finally got to meet my cousin’s partner, Amy, even though we’ve been in touch online for a while, and it was fantastic to catch up with her and Kath and hear more about their plans for the coming year. And…Amy broke out her knitting!
Yeah. She’s a keeper.
Aunt Marianne, Kath’s mom, looks so much like my dad that it’s a little unnerving. They’re 13 months apart in age and could now easily pass for twins. I never thought my dad would be all that attractive as a woman, but it turns out his features and expressions work pretty well on her, especially now that she’s letting the gray show going a little salt-and-pepper.
There was a rousing game of P1ct1onary. Scrabble used to be the family’s preferred game, but I hear Kath lost to Uncle Marc a couple of years ago and threw the board in protest. I don’t know if that’s when they switched, but P1ct1onary seems like a tidier choice.
It’s not only that my cousins have grown up — that’s expected. They’re gorgeous and interesting and full of stories and opinions, and every time we get together, I am thoroughly delighted by all of them.
But it’s also the difference in my relationship with my aunts and uncles. There was a very distinct line between the kids and the grown-ups when we were little…as there should have been. Uncle Andy generally ignored it and interacted with each of us at our own level, which is why talking to him still feels like it did when I was 8, in a good way. Now, the line is blurred for everyone and it’s just fun talking with them.
If I made New Year’s resolutions, I would resolve to spend more time with the Gingras side of the family this year…more than just seeing them at the next wedding in September. I’m not big on resolutuons and I’m disinclined to put a whole lot of pressure on myself after this year, so let’s just say there’s no reason not to hang out with Laura up in Philly or have her come down here. There’s no reason not to take a long weekend out at the Cape this summer. There’s no reason not to follow up with the cousin who might be headed down here for an internship.
And there are plenty of reasons to do all of that, not the least of which is that my family is freaking cool.
I don’t know exactly what Christmas will look like from here on out, except that I anticipate it will be dramatically different. I fully expect to be a little sad, a little nostalgic…but also grateful for the memories and excited about the future.
Speaking of New Year’s, by the way, stay tuned. There will be no resolutions, but there will be an announcement and accompanying photos that may — may, I say — show me in a prom gown.