Posts Tagged: christmas

Christmases Past

Merry Christmas!

Four siblings celebrating Christmas Eve in 1980 with our buttons. My brothers and I were really into big pin-on buttons, and my sister liked the small ones with ironic sayings, preferably regarding rock and roll. One of those is possibly hiding on the lapel of her velvet blazer.

Even if I didn’t give you the dates, you should be able to place this as the late 70s/early 80s by the frames of those magnificent glasses. This was taken at my parents’ home in Portland, a split-entry Capp Home they somehow put together from piles of lumber dumped at a muddy lot. We were all briefly jammed in there at this point, a situation that really couldn’t last.

I was 20, which would make my younger brother 9, my sister 23 by a single day, and my older brother 26. Babies, all of us. I believe I was still legally married to my first husband at this point, and I would have my first date with my second husband that coming New Year’s Eve. My third husband is probably reading this, and he dislikes reading about any men in my past. Honey, you know I love you best and always.

The kitty was Casey Jones of the golden yellow eyes and the rip-snorty purr.

An Earlier Christmas

Me and my mom, Christmas morning of 1979. This year, my mother, sister and I had matching robes (Cat’s was green). We celebrated in Eugene, where my sister lived with her first husband. I was nineteen, still married, still living in Montana, and profoundly unhappy. I would make my big break that next year, and head to Portland to reinvent myself. I would also cut off my hair.

An even earlier Christmas…

I was twelve here, and my sister was fifteen. We were living on Pine Street in Booneville, Arkansas. Our mom was in the hospital for this Christmas, so it was a low-key affair, and of course it was probably seventy-five degrees because Arkansas didn’t have a winter as far as we could tell. This was quite different for us, as we’d grown up in South Dakota and Minnesota. We loved wearing summer clothes on Christmas Day.

A friend of mine said once that we looked like we were tying bows with our prehensile toes, which made me giggle and still makes me smile when I look at our bare feet.

Speaking of South Dakota…

My sister and me at our grandparents’ farm house in 1966 or 1967, I’m not sure. I think 66. You can’t see it, but I’m wearing my favorite hair barrette in this photo..a pink dog, sort of reclining, with google eyes. My mother made the dress I’m wearing, and my sister’s dress is store-bought. The next year, I’d wear that pretty plaid number for the holidays, but a few years later I’d catch up and no longer wear her hand-me-downs.

My grandparents had an artificial tree trimmed with gold glass beads, gold satin balls, red velvet bows and spun cotton birds with real feathers. I found it unspeakably elegant. For this photo, we were instructed to hold our favorite presents. I selected my smallest gift, because I always loved miniature things. We opened presents on Christmas Eve following an all-white Norwegian dinner. I found Christmas Eve to be the longest day of the year.

This year.

I’m going to see the whole troop, since all my kids and their kids live in the Portland area again. The trees are trimmed and the presents are wrapped. The menu is planned but not provisioned, but I have days left to get that done.

I hope you all have a wonderful, magical, rambunctious and/or peaceful holiday. I’m hoping for all of the above.

Past Christmas posts:

What’s with those Christmas Lights?

Christmas Travel and the Christmas Fairy

Cats and Creches

Christmas Travel, The Fairy Godmother of Christmas Celebration, and the Year Ahead.

Christmas travel is happening this year. I’ll be visiting a daughter who is working on the east coast. She doesn’t have enough time off to make the trip home and I really miss her, so I’ll be leaving home for the holidays. I have to trust that Christmas will be okay without me, which is difficult for the self-appointed Fairy Godmother of Christmas Celebration.

Christmases past

In my first marriage–my starter marriage–we always traveled for Christmas. Often we went by car, barreling through the northern passes on our way back to Montana, where he would drop me with my family in Missoula and carry on to his own family and their opulent gifting in Bozeman. Once we moved back to Montana, I’d drive my own way over the passes on my way to Portland. In a tiny Datsun. With barely an ounce of fear, really, because that was how I did it in those days. I believe that in the six years I spent with this man, we spent one Christmas together. It was the only year we had a tree.

My second husband and I announced our intention to stay home and create our own Christmas traditions when our second daughter was born. My  mother didn’t mind, as she hated Christmas (yes, such people exist). His mother was a mighty domestic potentate, and demanded appeasement. We calmed her by coming to her home for Thanksgiving and Easter each year. Again, my mother wasn’t upset. She didn’t so much dislike Thanksgiving and Easter, as she simply had no interest in hosting them. As long as I made plenty of non-holiday visits, my mom was fine with not seeing us.

Christmas rage

My mother made some tentative Christmas visits to my house over the years. Mom approached the holidays with such a high level of wariness, and so much suppressed fury, it wasn’t always easy to have her there. She was tense and suspicious and ready to spring out the door at any moment. She could be persuaded to partake in a meal, but this had to be handled very gently. Just, you know, the idea, the aroma, the possibility. No pressure. And she’d have a plate, but then they’d need to go, down and back in one day, eight hours of driving for a short visit, but it was all she could handle.

As a child, my  mother’s attitude about Christmas (which started in about 1970–before that, I remember her enjoying it) was a crushing disappointment. All I wanted, as a kiddo, was to enjoy the season without reservation. I didn’t care so much about presents–our home was not one for opulent gifting–but I was excited about the tree, driving around to look at lights, Christmas cards, Rudolph on the TV and carols on the radio. How baffled she felt as we raptly watched Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol, loving every moment, while she felt nothing. She didn’t get it. That made her angry. She called it “Holiday depression.” We called it “Christmas rage.”

Understanding

My mother’s holiday tirades left me feeling tremendous guilt over how much I enjoyed all the trappings of the season. But as I got older, and created my own Christmas holidays, I no longer felt guilty. I felt smug. I was doing things right. And yes, I went overboard, compensating for what I wished I’d had as a child. It was manic, what I did to the house, how many gifts I wrapped, how intently I played the music, planned the menu. And then it happened–a string of sad, bad holidays. No details are needed, because these events aren’t even funny in retrospect.

I realized after a few rough years, that my excess of Christmas cheer was not contagious. It was, in fact, oppressive. No one else but me seemed interested in setting aside the difficulties of family life for the space of two days in order to have a “perfect” Christmas. I had turned into the sister in the green dress in “Home for the Holidays.” I felt sad and incredibly stupid.

I also started to feel sympathy for my mom. The trappings of the season infuriated her. I could imagine how awful it was as all around her, people blindly wrapped themselves up in mindless commercial cheer, staggering through malls like holiday zombies.

But once the pressure to provide a holiday was lifted from Mom’s shoulders, I think she came around. She could go to a friend’s house and have turkey, or stay home and watch Masterpiece Theater with Dad, or come to my house for a tense visit, or ignore it all entirely. No prescribed steps, no have-tos. I hope it got a little bit better for her.

This year

I have toned it down, people. But my baseline Christmas cheer has been a tenuous saving grace this year. Like so many in America, I am deeply concerned about the four years ahead. So I have retreated into holiday mode; decorating my home, planning my seasonal celebratory activities, listening to CDs that are supposed to cheer me. The wrong song can plunge me right into maudlin. It’s been a conscious choice to concentrate on the holiday. My other alternative is to fill up on despair while reading about disastrous cabinet appointments and wondering if public education, civil rights and the Earth’s atmosphere will actually exist for any future grandchildren I might have.

So if I’m a little quiet, it’s because I’m girding myself for what’s ahead. I won’t be buying many gifts this year, because I have other plans for my money. I’ve doubled my United Way gift and dedicated all of it to Planned Parenthood. I’m going to make a monthly contribution to the ACLU. And by God, I’m going to start eating Kellogg cereals again. I wonder if any of it will make a difference, but I have to try.

For now, I will light the candles, trim the trees, inhale the scent of cinnamon, open my heart and close my eyes. They will be opened soon enough.

Happy holidays to all of you. Let’s hold each other in our hearts.