Holiday traditions are important to me. As my family dynamic has changed over the years, my traditions have been forced to change, as well. While I love watching my grandchildren open gifts, I long for the family celebrations of yesteryear.
When I was a very small child, it was common for my family to attend three or four celebrations in the same day. Back then, I had two grandmas, a grandpa, and two great-grandmothers still living, so we had Christmas with each family and one at home. Sadly, they all passed several years ago.
As I grew older and the family dynamic shifted, we attended one big family celebration at my aunt and uncle’s house and then had the one at home. Some of my favorite Christmas memories are from our big gatherings at my aunt and uncle’s house on their mountaintop. Yes, they had a mountain to themselves, and it was glorious!
My uncle usually had some sort of new toy. The year of the pool table was my dad’s favorite while the year of the telescope was mine. One year, he had a six-wheeled ATV that we took out in the snow. I’ve never known anything more exhilarating than sliding down that mountain on his ATV sideways. It seated several people, so I was in good company on that adventure. As I recall, my uncle was driving, Dad was egging him on from the passenger seat, and my sister and I were whooping from the back seat.
My aunt always had some new kitchen gadget to try. One of the last years we celebrated together, she had an egg contraption that was supposed to cook the perfect boiled egg. We tried and tried to use the silly thing, but never could get it to work. It was so funny to see two generations all fail with that piece of technology. I’m not casting stones. I couldn’t figure the thing out, either. We ended up boiling them on the stove like normal people.
My aunt’s kitchen was amazing, though. She had a huge island with a sink and a cook top in the center of the kitchen. This was in addition to her regular range and sink. She had a bar with tall stools as well as a huge kitchen table. Both eating areas boasted a gorgeous view of the Ozarks Mountains from the bay window. She kept bird feeders near the window, so blue jays and cardinals were a typical sight while enjoying the feast. She even had a red-headed woodpecker for a few years.
We always had celery stuffed two ways – some with peanut butter and some with cream cheese. I serve celery two ways at my holiday dinners, as well. It just screams holiday love and joy to me. Deviled eggs were always present as were green bean casserole, mashed potatoes with gravy, hot rolls, cranberry salad, and the typical holiday fare. Of course, my cousin always made her famous macaroni and cheese from scratch. There is none better on the face of the earth as far as I’m concerned.
My uncle was a master at smoking turkey. He had an elaborate smoker where he slow smoked our giant bird all night and all morning. The flavor was the stuff of dreams. I’ve never been able to duplicate that taste. The meat was juicy with a nice amount of hickory, but not too much. He used a secret family recipe to which I was never privy.
After we stuffed ourselves with too much amazing food, we threw the dishes in the dishwasher and adjourned to the finished basement, which was always decked out in beautiful Christmas regalia. The enormous Christmas tree was always decorated with the prettiest ornaments and lights. My aunt loved Hallmark ornaments, and it showed. Once we were all assembled, the present unwrapping chaos ensued.
The thing I miss most about those gatherings is the laughter that echoed through the house. Everyone was loud and proud. My family members all having a teasing nature, so everything was fair game. I was called “the old maid” and “the spinster” for several years because I didn’t get married until I was 27. The teasing then turned to my step-kids living at home forever. My cousins, sister, ex-brother-in-law, and I once had a very loud and heated debate about who is the greatest super hero. My mom was appalled, but I was invigorated arguing my point for all to hear. I always knew that whether my family agreed with my ideas and decisions or not, I was loved.
Times have changed, and we no longer visit my aunt and uncle’s house for the holidays. We don’t travel at all. My cousins have families of their own as do my step-children. My husband and I usually host the holidays for our immediate family – my mom, mother-in-law, sister and her family, and step-kids and their families. Working out the logistics for our group often proves a herculean challenge.
Our celebrations are perfectly joyful, but don’t quite compare to the ones of my youth. Those celebrations of yesteryear just seemed to have something mine do not. I suppose it’s human nature to yearn for the festivities from your childhood.
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