“We do not know the true value of our moments until they have undergone the test of memory.”

29 Nov


When I was a kid, we didn’t do too much in the way of Christmas stuff. My mother was crafty, but lacking in the patience department. She was a talented seamstress, could tailor anything, and yet didn’t make any attempt that I recall at teaching me how to sew. The only thing I remember her showing me was plastic canvas. Even that, she kept to the simple stuff.

We had a way cool silver star on the door that my mother made from Bristol board, sprayed silver and coated in red glitter. I wish I had it. But most things were never shared with me, and we never did anything like cooking Christmas cookies. Even the tree was decorated without my assistance for the most part. I remember helping assemble it, which was a chore since it usually went something like this:

                  “This is a blue piece. Where do the pieces marked blue go?”

                  “I don’t know.”

                  “Whaddya mean you don’t know?”

                  “We didn’t keep the instructions.”

So most of the time was spent arguing over which pieces were bigger or smaller and who put the wrong pieces where. By the time every single piece was in, attentions had….wavered.

Add to that the fact that my father ran a retail store, something similar to a Wal-Mart or a Woolco, and most people in our house were just plain old sick of Christmas since we had been living it since, oh I dunno, shortly after Halloween.

After my mother died, even any of the sparse traditions of placing ye old ceramic snowman on the mantle died out until I started doing them myself. Something nameless inside me said it was important to keep doing these small things, to force my father to hang the star, to figure out how to put the tree up. I started buying ornaments each year so I’d have something to remember each year by, and have some to take with me when I moved out.

Too bad my father misplaced all the ornaments on me.

I’d buy board games, saying they were from Santa. No one wanted to play. As close as we got to a family tradition after she died was sitting around and eating all the clementines. I stopped attending church, leaving my father and brother, and eventually my brother to go alone. Part of me misses the joy and serenity of a midnight catholic service. There was always such peace in the air that night. Is a night special because we want it to be, because we create it that way, or is it special because of the night it is?

Now, with my own kids, I want to build memories, our own traditions. This year we’ll make bars and cookies and fudge to take to work, to give to neighbours and to eat ourselves. We made my very first attempt at a gingerbread house. (out of a box. I’m not insane enough to bake the gingerbread). I placed ye old ceramic snowman on the corner shelf, wondering if the girls will someday fight over it, this piece of cheap statuary. We raise the tree, dreaming of the big blue pine one at The Bay.

I miss that I don’t have any real memories or traditions to pass alone, and I struggle to create some for my family. What’s most meaningful to you during this season from being a child?

7 Responses to ““We do not know the true value of our moments until they have undergone the test of memory.””

  1. allyo November 29, 2007 at 6:01 pm #

    Putting up the tree, definitely. And baking cookies. My grandma insisted on cutout cookies up until 2 or 3 years before her death. We didn’t do a lot of other decoration. No outdoor lights or anything even though I begged. We do them at home now, or have until recent years, what with a kid and MD’s physical issues, but I fully intend to reinstate the tradition next year.

    But the tree, that was highly ritualized. Down to what ornaments had what places of honor, how and when the star was put on.

    Love your gingerbread house. I need to remind myself that even my uber-crafty online idols use prepackaged decorations and things this time of year, and get over it and buy one to decorate!!

  2. amateurish November 29, 2007 at 7:15 pm #

    Decorating the tree was definately a highlight. My mother was anal about teh lights and did it every year until she deemed me skilled enough. We would get a new Christmas ornament for each member of teh family eveyr year – if it didn’t have to do with a special occasion, it would be something that kind of captured the essence of the person.

    Also, my grandparents got all the children presents that said “To Be Opened Dec 24th”. It was always pajamas. Our christmas pajamas changed in style over the years, but we looked forward to those gifts every December!

    But I think the most important “tradition” should be TIME! That’s what your kids will remember even it it’s just that you would eat dinner together every day the week of Christmas or breakfast on Christmas morning.

  3. Judy November 29, 2007 at 8:38 pm #

    My mom has this cheap plastic Nativity, with most of the pieces broken out of it, the glitter all gone, but a few years ago when she tried to throw it away, I made her dig it out of the trash. I want that.

    From being a kid? Getting to open one gift Christmas Eve. Somehow always guessing whatever special gifts my dad had gotten for me. I can’t eat Hershey’s Kisses the rest of the year – I like good, dark chocolate – but my mom sent some, and they tasted like Christmas. Advent calendars. And the cheesy Christmas movies – I need to get It’s a Wonderful Life on DVD.

  4. thordora November 29, 2007 at 9:10 pm #

    oh the nativity! My mother had one, and she was very particular-the wise men came out one week, and baby jesus ONLY came out Dec 25 (even today I become annoyed when I see jesus in the cradle on say Dec 12)

    It’s long gone, and I had forgotten about it til now. I’m an atheist, but I do miss that tradition, and what it meant to my mother.

  5. Bon November 29, 2007 at 9:38 pm #

    it’s funny, because i long for some sense of the Christmases we had when i was a child, and yet – my mom worked, we didn’t decorate much, never bought the tree til about Christmas eve and then, by the time i was a teenager, i ended up decorating it myself. and yet, that feeling of stillness you talk about, that sense of holiness and anticipation, i long for that.

    i don’t know what traditions we will manage to cobble together for O in this secular house with a dad who doesn’t like ritual much. our Christmases the past few years have been hazy, like one long advent. i am hoping we can emerge into the light and begin to build traditions that will give O some of that same sense of stillness and specialness.

    (we had the plastic nativity too, when i was a kid. jesus’ head had been glued back on and left a yellow glue line. it cracked me up).

  6. radical mama November 30, 2007 at 10:26 am #

    We didn’t have much of that stuff as kids. It really depended on my mom’s mood that year. Sometimes she was so depressed she wouldn’t leave her room. Sometimes she was in a complete frenzy and made us bake 10 batches of sugar cookies and put up the tree all in one night. Not fun.

    I miss Christmas Eve mass too. One of the only things about Catholicism that makes me nostalgic.

    I try to do a lot with our girls. We go cut our own tree and decorate it. We make ornaments. (I do NOT recommend stringing popcorn. It is tedious and beckons the mice. Paper chains are much better.) We make an effort to watch all the classic Christmas movies as a family. We bake a LOT of cookies and pies and cakes. We decorate our own wrapping paper (and compost it, of course!). We have family pictures taken of everyone in their Christmas garb. Sometimes it still doesn’t feel like enough, but on paper it looks good. We’re doing gingerbread this year too. Once I baked a whole village but that was effing expensive. So much molasses! This year, just the chapel with stained glass windows (aka melted Jolly Ranchers). We need to do more for charity at this time. That is the thing I feel most lacking.

  7. cat November 30, 2007 at 1:48 pm #

    Funny we were just discussing the roller coaster of emotions that is Christmas. On the one hand there are memories of mom hanging my stocking on the inside of my door. So when I woke up in the morning, I had that to occupy me for a long time, there were tiny packages stuffed in it. All wrapped intricately. Even the nuts and fruit got wrapped. I had to unwrap it all before waking them up. A tradition I intend to continue with gusto.

    On the other there is that fake tree that stayed up until April most years. My mother too lethargic to take it down. She got the strength to light it though most nights through March. Until we begged, pleaded for her to stop.

    We won’t get into the moldy fruitcake.

    Christmas… yeah. It’s loaded every year. Its a good thing we have little eyes to make shine and just a few fond memories to pass on.

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