With each passing year, I find myself more at peace during the Christmas season. As I look out my office window this morning, over the snow-dusted field, I know that this is a year that I will once again be more joyful and serene than the last.
I’ve always loved the Christmas holidays. As a child, I looked forward to the large family gatherings, always rotating host homes. All the cousins would play together. Most of us spent a lot of time together anyway because we lived so close together. It’s funny though. Even the few years when we spent Christmas in Canada with my mother’s family, we all seemed close. Many years, I only saw those cousins at Thanksgiving because of the distance, but we were still very close and friendly.
The huge Christmas feast was always the focal point of the day or evening. Our family usually had ham for Christmas, along with an obscene number of side dishes. We had mashed potatoes and gravy, dressing, 3 kinds of vegetables, a salad, deviled eggs and a dessert selection to be envied. As Gramma grew older, and her house was no longer big enough to host all of us – nearly 40 one year – we had to force her to not bring so many dishes to the dinners. When she asked “What do you want me to bring”, she was told to make her banana pudding that only a few people liked and one other thing. Gramma didn’t listen very well and often it would take all of the cousins to carry everything in that she had made.
“Well, I had this in the fridge and it needed to be used up.”
My love of cooking large feasts definitely comes from Gramma. Nothing satisfies my Christmas spirit more than spending two days in the kitchen that culminates in a 30-45 minute meal. When Gramma passed away in 2004 and we were cleaning out her house, that love of cooking was remembered by my mom and aunt. They blessed me with the gift of Gramma’s cookbook collection and much of her crockery and a few cast iron skillets, including her chicken fryer. OK, I was the only one who would dare to clean the chicken fryer which had been sitting in the oven of her unoccupied kitchen for eight months with grease from the last frying. It was so worth it!
After dinner was somewhat cleaned up, while everyone groaned from eating too much, we would gather around the tree for Christmas presents. My dad was one of three, with a total of eight grandchildren between them. We always exchanged names. I don’t ever actually remember buying the gifts for my cousins. I don’t even remember drawing the names – I think the adults did it. But there would be a present to one of my cousins that said “From Debbie” on the tag.
Gramma loved to buy Christmas presents. Usually, there were one or two packages for each grandchild – always an equal number. The gifts were usually practical, especially as we got older. I got my very first cookbook from Gramma one year for Christmas, and I was probably around 10 years old. I still have it. When I got married, she often included her “Circle” cookbooks for the girls. The “Circle” cookbooks were compilations assembled by church groups and other organizations. What I wouldn’t give to have one of those cookbooks under the Christmas tree now.
As I grew older, I lost interest in Christmas presents. I think a large part of it was watching my young niece and nephews open mountains of gifts, knowing that they would be doing the same thing at several other celebrations within a short period of time. The defining moment came when one of my nephews opened a gift from my mother and said “But I already got this one.” That is the last year I gave Christmas gifts.
The only gift I want is to be surrounded by my family, spending time together. My man insists on giving gifts to me, and nothing I can say to him will convince him otherwise. My now-adult children always ask me what I want for Christmas, and for years I’ve said the same thing: “You – home for Christmas.”
My daughter, who recently moved to Missouri, hit me with the question again on Thanksgiving Day. Even after my standard response, she insisted there must be some kind of kitchen gadget I’ve been eyeing. Even though she doesn’t make a lot of money, she has Gramma’s desire to buy a gift for Christmas. I think I satisfied her when I asked for a very specific cookbook. No, my collection of over 400 cookbooks is not enough!
I look forward to Christmas. I just moved into a log cabin and this weekend, we will begin hanging the lights outside and put up the Christmas tree. I’m already planning my Christmas dinner menu and I will make enough food to feed an army. My Trans Siberian Orchestra CD is loaded into the player and will probably wear out this year and need to be replaced.
My children with be here with their significant others. My parents will be here. My man will be here. If other members of my family can find time in their schedules, I will welcome them with open arms and Gramma’s mantra of “We got plenty!”
I will have the most important gift anyone can ever receive – the gift of family, being together and enjoying each other.