Christmas is family

*Special thanks to writer Toinette Thomas for sharing her Christmas memories in today’s post.*

It’s is pretty much impossible to talk about holiday memories without talking about family. Family makes the holidays for me. After getting married, my holidays became our holidays, and we had to start dividing our time between our two families. People may joke or even seriously gripe about in-laws, but where I’m from, you take the good with the bad and love anyway. I make a point most of the time not to distinguish in-laws, distant cousins, what have you… it’s all family to me.

So today I will share two funny memories spent with both of my families.

Let’s start with a tale of Christmas with the in-laws. My husband and I have been married for eight years and have spent either Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year’s with my new family every year, alternating with mine. In all the seven years prior to last year the holiday celebration was simple, sweet, and pretty much the same. Then someone got the idea to take me, because I was whining about missing seeing lights with my family, to see the lights at Bristol Speedway…

This is where I had an inner monologue with myself to talk myself out of throwing a colossal fit. For seven years I’ve been sitting around watching football and Hallmark movies when I could have been looking at light as Bristol Speedway!

Anyway, the lights were amazing and so was the time in the car; driving around and singing to Christmas music was reminiscent to the tradition I’ve spent with my family, but that wasn’t the end. At the end of lights show, you get to actually drive on the Speedway. For someone who’s never done this, and didn’t know it was even an option, that was really awesome!… Then there was more.

There was a little carnival set in the middle. It was snowing and freezing cold, but my husband and I took our nephews out to walk around and eat sweet treats. My father-in-law even choked a little on some spiced apple cider, but we did warn him not to chug it- he’s a little feisty sometimes.

It was a truly wonderful experience I’ll never forget.

Now for a funny moment spent with my family.

clark-griswoldA few years back, my family was all gathered for the holiday trying to figure out what to do as we awaited midnight.  This group opens presents to accommodate my sister’s in-laws (see how we all work together so nicely!). We decided watch a holiday movie. This was back been my sister’s youngest was about six and the oldest was ten, I believe. Everyone decided they wanted to watch National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, a truly funny movie in my personal opinion.

Since the movie was not scheduled to air on basic cable that night, and my family didn’t have Netflix then, my mom had rented it. Immediately, my husband and I cautioned everyone that as much as we love that movie and think the older cousins would be okay to watch it, we were concerned about the language for the little ones. We pointed out that the TBS version is a little different than the theatrical version, but no one seemed overly concerned. Needless to say that we all watched it and enjoyed it, but there were quite a few gasps, red faces, and covered ears and eyes from time to time… and when Clark Griswold made his comment about “Danny #@&$ Kaye”, the whole family fell out, the movie was paused, my mom said a prayer, and we explained to all the kids that that was not an appropriate way to talk.

What’s really great about this whole story is that the kids remember it fondly. They talk all the time about us letting them watch that movie unedited and that it was an important part of them understanding how the world is and maybe how it should or shouldn’t be. Now that the kids are older, we all still watch that movie together and love it. We even quote from it throughout the year in anticipation for when we’ll all be able to see it together again.


Just like Clark Griswold

clark griswoldMy mom is the female version of Clark W. Griswold of the National Lampoon’s movies. Perhaps this is why the Christmas Vacation movie is one of her favorites (and one of mine, too). I am absolutely certain she can relate to Clark’s impossibly high standards for holiday fun, his desire to create bonding opportunities for his kids and family, and his inability to remember where he places gifts, discovering them covered in cobwebs years later in the attic. And she can certainly relate to Clark’s ideas about how to track down the best Christmas trees, counting frostbite as a necessary casualty in the name of good old family fun.

My parents celebrating Christmas a few years ago

My parents celebrating Christmas a few years ago

My mom loves to create memories. As a result, she loves holidays, particularly those with religious significance and those that emphasize the importance of family. Thanksgiving is her favorite, but Christmas probably runs a close second. As a child, I remember that my mom never told us that Santa was real, but she didn’t tell us he wasn’t, either. She let us draw our own conclusions. At five years old, I asked her about the character’s validity. She responded, “What do you think?”

“Okay, now I know he’s not real,” I answered, and returned to whatever game I was playing.

My disbelief in Santa Claus never hindered my love for Christmas at all. My mom created fun traditions and tried new ways of getting us involved in celebrating Christmas throughout the years. We baked the most delicious sugar cookies on the planet most years. She allowed us to trim the tree with our handmade ornaments from Sunday School, never opting for the “pretty” trees until we’d moved out of the house. She taught us how to string popcorn and cranberries and helped us make green and red construction paper rings for counting down to Christmas Day. She took us to Midnight Mass every year at the Episcopal church (when we were old enough to stay awake for it without grumbling incessantly) and then let us stay up to enjoy hot chocolate afterwards. And most importantly, she read us the real Christmas story, including the infamous baby the holiday is named after, and made sure that we understood the Reason for the season.

She might have even let us sing “Joy to the world, the teacher’s dead…. we barbecued her head…” (a terrible rendition, but as elementary-aged kids, we found it hilarious) in the back of our van as we drove around town admiring Christmas lights.

With my daughter, December 2012

With my daughter, December 2012

My mom may have her over-the-top Clark Griswold moments, but I wouldn’t trade the memories I have of Christmas for anything. I’m so grateful she is who she is. And I look forward to sharing special moments with our little Maggie, hopefully passing on some of the traditions my mom created 33 years ago.