*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.
A 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.
*Today’s post is by my dear friend and former colleague, Kenton Adler.*
In the spring of 1973 my mother went on a month-long business trip to Europe. She was a buyer for the May company in Colorado, and she went overseas pretty regularly. This particular trip was a little different because my dad arranged to fly over and meet her in Spain, and they made a nice vacation of it for a week or so. They came back with a new-found love for Sangria, which is basically a red wine enhanced with citrus fruit and other ingredients. As a seventeen-year-old I was allowed to partake of the results of various sangria experiments which I very much enjoyed.
“What does that have to do with Christmas?” you may well ask. Well, by Christmas of 1973, Mom had taken a different job at a very upscale gift shop, and she decided to invite all of her co-workers over for a Christmas party. Her parties were not frequent, but they were always very nice. She always had the place looking like something from the cover of McCall’s or Better Homes and Gardens, with great food, and for this particular party she planned to introduce everyone to the joys of Sangria. She spent a pretty fair amount of time planning the menu, rounding up the ingredients for everything and getting the house cleaned up for guests. We generally did not spend much time in the living room. That was the special room, and a lot of the time I was growing up there was plastic over the furniture, and we couldn’t walk on the carpet in there if we were wearing shoes. The upholstery at that time was a white background with bright green vines and blue flowers. That was on the sofa, two matching chairs, and the valance above the white curtains. The carpet in there was just a shade darker than sky blue. The walls and ceiling were white, and we had a fireplace made out of rectangular pieces of light-colored stone, and a wood mantle.
On the day of the party the mantle was loaded with Christmas cards, and three stockings hung from it. My mom had made the stockings, one for me, my sister and brother, when we were little kids. Mine was green velvet with a large yellow Christmas tree decorated with little rhinestones. My sister’s stocking was red with the image of a doll, and my brother’s was also red with a little train on it. All three had white satin trim folded down over the top. Late in the afternoon Mom decided to have a fire started in the fireplace. She asked my brother to handle that. He was eleven at the time, and was a very experienced fire starter. He liked to play with matches when he was younger and once managed to ignite a box of clothes previously destined for Goodwill that was stored out in the garage. As punishment he was given 1000 stick matches and sat down at the end of the driveway until he had lit them all. I don’t know if that cured him, but he didn’t burn up any more boxes in the garage.
For the party fire he selected some nice split pine logs to get things going, and had set aside some small, whole apple logs to throw on after everything was going. The apple burned slow and long and really smelled good. In 1973 technology had advanced to the point of these fire-starting cubes that were available at the store, and he got his pine all situated in the grate, set three or four of those cubes underneath the logs and knelt in front of the hearth with a stick match and set off the cubes. The cubes were jellied kerosene, essentially a domestic grade napalm. They lit right up, and in a matter of seconds, the logs caught, and the fire in the fireplace was roaring. It only took a few more seconds for us to notice that thick black smoke was starting to curl out from the top of the fireplace opening, and that the flames were also coming out. My brother dashed over and saved the stockings. The fire was licking at the bottom of the mantle, and the Christmas cards were in danger of being consumed. Seriously, the flames were probably four or five feet high. The smoke had gotten REALLY black and thick and was now pouring out of the front of the fireplace, up the wall, across the ceiling of the living room and spreading all over. Seems no one had bothered to check that the flue was open. This was the first time that winter a fire had been built in that fireplace, and so the flue was still closed from the year before.
Mother got VERY excited and was sort of running around saying, “Call the fire department. Call the fire department.” I don’t really recall what my dad was doing right that minute, as I headed into the kitchen at a pretty rapid clip and filled the biggest stew pot I could find with water from the sink. I dashed back into the living room and dumped the contents onto the fire. It subsided considerably, although that action did provide for a LOT of smoky steam. Seeing that I’d had some success, I went back to the kitchen and re-filled the pot and repeated the process. This time the fire went out, but another big gush of steam resulted. By the time the excitement was over the wall above the fireplace, and the ceiling were blackened from the smoke, as were the white curtains. The smoke stains went across the living room and down the upstairs hallway, and the place smelled heavily of smoke.
Mother could have canceled the party that evening, but she didn’t. She opened all the windows to air the place out and went right on preparing the table decoration, the food and the Sangria. When the guests arrived she explained what had happened and why the place smelled like a warehouse fire. Everyone expressed their happiness that it hadn’t been worse and enjoyed the food, wine and fellowship.
I still have two of those stockings, mine and my brother’s. I hope my sister still has hers, but I don’t know for sure. The stockings are no worse for the wear and tear, and some forty-one years later, that is still one of my most memorable Christmases.
*Today is the first post in the “Dear Gratitude” project for November 2013. Each day in November, a different writer will share a letter to someone or something he is thankful for. Today’s contributor is my friend and spiritual hero, Betty Gail Jones, AKA Nanna. Thank you for sharing, Betty Gail!*
Dear Ajay and Ari,
It is November, and in the United States, we celebrate Thanksgiving during this month. Some years ago, as your mom and Aunt Kelly grew up and were married, we decided to make Thanksgiving our special holiday to celebrate family time. Christmas was always so busy, and with their husbands’ families to consider, it wasn’t always possible to be together, so we made a plan to always be together for Thanksgiving. For several years, we enjoyed going to Branson together where we played games, ate amazing meals and shopped until we dropped. The times were so special, and our memories of being together are precious.
Now that you and your parents live overseas, sharing holidays together and other special times are and will be a rarity. We are so grateful to see you on Skype and talk with you via the Internet though. I realize that your country has its own celebrations and holidays, but I want you to know about your American heritage.
As the name suggests, Thanksgiving is a time when we think about the blessings in our life, or at least should. Sometimes we get caught up in cooking and eating a lot of food and watching football and forget about that part. The first English settlers of America had made it through a very hard winter and survived. They had been greeted by the Native American people who lived in this country with friendship. They had been shown how to survive and how to plant and make crops grow. They were grateful to God for life and had a feast. The Pilgrims and Indians shared in the feast with food from both groups of people. I think this is something like you do with your neighbors who live on your rooftop. It is like you are Pilgrims and they are the Natives of their country. They have helped you and your family by sharing their home with you. You have given them gifts from the United States and shared holidays with them. You celebrate life with them by sharing birthdays and special days, and as they question you about your God, you can share Him, as well.
Thanksgiving is a holiday that should be shared with people you love, wherever you are. Instead of turkey and dressing, you might share Dal-baht and instead of yeast rolls maybe naan. You might watch some fut-bal instead of football. But you are blessed, and one thing should be the same – both you and I should, as the Pilgrim people were, be thankful to our God for his provision and love. Just as we share the table in celebration, we will also share the Source of our blessings with those whom we love.
Until the day when we can celebrate Thanksgiving together, remember that I love you and thank God for the blessing of you, every day!
My 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 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.
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.