I’ve always been an avid list-maker, but “avid” is hardly the word for it this year— more like compulsive. Perhaps that’s because I’ve suddenly felt an overwhelming urge to revive some of our old Christmas traditions, most of which we haven’t enjoyed since my Mother was last here to supervise and to enjoy them with us. She was debilitated with a series of strokes in 2017 and then passed away right after Thanksgiving the following year. My spirit for the holiday season sort of passed with her, and Covid finished it off.
To say that Christmas was my Mother’s most favorite holiday is an extreme understatement. She was the ultimate Christmas Elf. She started planning for the next Christmas on December 26, hitting the sales to buy greeting cards at half price (something I still do) and looking for after-Christmas bargains for those who were always on her gift list the following year. By Halloween, she was wrapping presents; by Thanksgiving, she was addressing cards; by December 1, her tree was up, her house was decorated, and she was shipping boxes of gifts up East to us in advance of her usual holiday visit. By mid-December, she had organized a “tamalada” with her friends and made several dozen tamales to bring with her in her carry-on on the flight to New York (prompting other passengers to ask about the smell and other Texans on the plane to express a wistful jealousy). She had also made her famous chocolate fudge (to bring up) and sometimes, at my special request, even carried Texas barbecue and smoked sausage. It’s a wonder the entire flight of passengers didn’t erupt in a revolt of feeding frenzy!
Before she retired, my Mother was a personnel manager at J. C. Penney’s, but through all those years she still maintained that indomitable Christmas spirit. She loved going to work with the store all decorated and meeting the excitement of all the shoppers, even though for her the holidays in retail meant long hours, staffing headaches, and mediating customer complaints. When I was in high school, she let me and my best friend Judy work in gift wrap. That gave me a crash course in dealing with unruly, unreasonable customers (though my Mother was not sympathetic, since “The customer is always right” was the official Penney motto). To this day, however, I attribute my expert gift wrapping techniques, if not my lack of patience with unruly people, to that that early retail experience.
So, back to the present, to the list I’ve made in order to resurrect some of our old Christmas traditions. You can follow along if you’re interested (and I will post recipes and directions if you wish):
- get the tree up (assemble the artificial one, new this year) check
- string lights outside on the fence and make new red bows check
- hang the big wreaths over the garage and front door check
- put bows on the front grills of the cars check
- take useful, pretty decorations to Goodwill early check
- decorate all rooms inside and cull decorations as we go check
- write Christmas letter for greeting cards check
- hand-write and send out all greeting cards (130 or so) almost
- find recipes and shop for all baking ingredients check
- make the fudge check
- make the biscotti check
- make the sugar cookies in progress
- make the black/white cookies in progress
- make reservations for our Christmas Eve dinner check
- order/send far-away gifts check
- wrap gifts in house in progress
- dig out Christmas china and serving plates check
- practice the piano for the Christmas Eve carols not yet
- plan an outfit for Christmas Eve Mass/dinner on order
- order the prime rib for Christmas Day not yet
- call close friends far away for an overdue conversation in progress
- clean up the whole house and make it sparkle check
If this list makes you tired, imagine how I feel. But I promise you, I will feel a whole lot better when it is complete.
I think this compulsion to recreate our Christmases past comes not from, frankly, an optimism about the future or a hope for the end of Covid or the resolution of the rancor of politics in the nation, but from a deep sense of gratitude for the years, and holidays, that I have enjoyed in my life. I have a legacy of joy from my Mother and a determination not to allow the state of the world to reduce my expectations for my own happiness in the years, and the Christmases, I have left.
So I’ve made my list and I don’t need to check it twice. It’s good. And I’m good to go. I hope you are too. Merry Christmas!