Author: Reynolds, Suzanne

Christmas Vignette

It comes every year. On schedule. Ready or not. “Christmas is my favourite time of year” is a catchphrase that tugs at a multitude of hearts. The weather may be bleak, the coin purse sparse, but the spirit of the holiday of lights and tinsel brightens the grey-darkened days. I can see the visions of my Christmases past flood back to me and they all have common themes. It is a time of tradition in our home, where the familiar rituals not only celebrate the Christmas of the present but bring back to life the joy of Christmases long, long ago.

It was a time of peace and joy and love. I know my parents had their share of “lean” Christmases during my childhood but they were never caught up in the material aspects of the season that I could see. My mother’s enthusiasm for “olde-fashioned” Christmases belied the tight budgets with which she had to make miracles, but we always believed her. “THIS Christmas is going to be extra special because it is going to be a real olde-fashioned Christmas this year” she would pronounce and you could palpably feel the magic in the making. Then out would come the family decorations, the ornaments, the gold garland, the lights… it was time to get the tree. (No, NOT a tumbleweed, Dad… a tree!) We could bring home just about any tree and think it was a grand affair once the shiny, sparkling things took it over. Gifts would secretly appear over the next couple of weeks, wrapped in wonderful Christmas prints and bedecked with shiny bows or, my favourite, oodles and oodles of curling ribbon. Tags would be checked out for recipients’ names to claim ownership. Oh, the mystery! The walls would not be lined with package after package like at the homes of some of our friends, but these gifts we had were bought or made with full attention to the innermost desires we held and we knew something special would be found on Christmas morning.

Dad would get into the spirit by bringing out his guitar and the Christmas songbook. He and I would sit by the tree in the livingroom and work out the old tunes and carols. I always loved “God Bless Ye Merry Gentlemen” and we would do every verse of the “Twelve Days of Christmas.” Supposedly we were practicing for the family get-together but it was usually for naught as I always seemed to get tonsillitis or laryngitis during winter break… no matter, I remember those sing-alongs and they brought us happiness. It was simply a part of the pre-holiday activities. Later, when we had our band, it was a part of the season to find lovely acoustical tunes to work up.

But even with all this, it wasn’t really Christmas until my mother put on her apron, took out the white, poinsettia-printed box that held her collection of copper-coloured aluminum cookie cutters and called us into the kitchen. It was time to bake and decorate the Christmas cookies. This was time my brother and I spent with our mother as we would cut out and bake and frost cookies before unleashing our creative talents with sugar and sprinkles. Dad’s job was to eat the “spectacular” results and give us his gastronomical approval. This is replayed in my mind every year and my own massive collection of cookie cutters speak to the fondness in my heart for these special memories.

My own Christmases with my children echo these same concepts. Always leaning toward the “olde-fashioned” that my mother enthused about, our tree held the many German-glass ornaments I started collecting when I was fourteen years old. We strung popcorn and cranberries to garland our trees. I have a story from those days I will share. One year our family was experiencing a particularly rough holiday, financially speaking. We had our tree, however, with the ornaments and the popcorn garland that wound its way around from top to bottom. One particular evening I was sitting on the sofa by the tree when I heard a worrisome crackling sound coming from our tannenbaum. I immediately sprang from the sofa and checked the lights, sure that we had a short that would spark our tree into flames (always imagine the worst-case scenario… always). I couldn’t find a short and the crackling stopped so I huffed a sigh of relief and credited the sound to my imagination. Then… again the crackling sound… again the frantic search… again, nothing. Sit back down, only to replay the whole routine once more. However, this time when I searched the tree, I discovered a cricket sitting on the garland and realized that the crackling sound I heard was him eating the popcorn! Well, the mystery was solved and I let him be, aware that tradition states that crickets are good luck, and there he lived while the tree remained in our home. Not more than a week later, a lucrative job was to put our finances back in order and, every Christmas after that, after decorating the tree, my children and I would look for a cricket outside to bring in and settle in the tree for the duration.

Traditions bring our lives together. We form them as memories that bring us joy are relived from one year to the next and help us weave the enchantment we so desire in our everyday lives. From the handmade felt mouse family that sat on the antique pendulum clock, whose shelf also held our stockings waiting for Santa, to the coloured lights that lined the roof of our home, all the finery of those holidays from my once-upon-a-time was really simple flash and glimmer. We built magic every year by piling on the sparkle and love to the point of making something special together.

And isn’t that how it all originally came about, this Christmas thing we celebrate? Not the shopping nor the rush and bustle. Not the Christmas television specials nor the Black Friday sales. Isn’t what we really celebrate is the idea that from something humble and simple and true came the most wondrous love of all?

Posted:  12/18/2012

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