A Thousand Strands of Good.
When I was growing up, we had many cultural rituals around Christmas Eve. My earliest memories are of waiting and waiting for an early, light supper, waiting patiently for my turn in the shower (there were eight of us) and dressing in very best clothes. Often this happened to be new tights and a dress. I can’t remember any winter versus summer dresses back then; mine seemed to be light-weight. So this posed a dilemma. Did I sit in the TV room, which meant I’d be chilly but able to watch local Christmas concerts (often seeing a sister or two) or sit in the tree room, which had a stove and a stereo system? To be warm and listen to Buck Owen’s Christmas, or to be cold and watch The Christmas Carol? Finally it was time to go to midnight mass, which really meant getting there for choir, around 11:15 p.m. In the early years, I’d sit with my mother and then head over for the songs that just my family sang. I was the drummer girl for a few years there. When I got old enough, I joined the choir. I remember big fur coats and the smell of perfume. I remember counting the lights on the Christmas trees. (I still do this!) And I remember looking for and finding that still moment of peace, the ultimate gift of Christmas (still do this too). After church, we’d head home for the Reveillon, the French Canadian feast tradition called the Awakening. More fur coats piled on top of my parents’ bed, hundreds of people eating and drinking, later fifty, and then finally down to around 25. My parents still have a reveillon, but I’m to sleepy to attend, so my daughters go instead. After every last guest was gone, we’d clean up (we never did have a dishwasher) and then get into our pajamas. We’d settle in our spots in the tree room, and open our gifts. My dad wouldn’t bother to go to bed, since he had to do the milking around 5 a.m. I slept in, which means I got up at 8 a.m. I tell you, it all seemed so magical. I try to tell my daughters about it, but there’s so much that’s out of context for them, how special the anticipation was, and the joy that brought so many different people together for just this one time of the year. So many French double kisses! So now when I prepare for Christmas, I keep that young girl inside me, the one deciding between warm and cold, the one in the soft flannel yellow nightgown, the one who found everybody’s coats quickly so they could go home that much faster. I hope that our girls feel magic with our own rituals. And I hope they write about it one day in their own blogs and journals. Christmas time can be a thousand strands of good. But you gotta wait for it!