It’s Christmas Eve morning, to me it’s Christmas, I am no longer anticipating it’s arrival, it is here. I laid in bed this morning thinking back to my childhood, memories are foggy yet fixed, Christmas Eve was always Christmas. Traditions were set into place. As a toddler child it was a time of joy and wonder, where my mother would dress me in some frilly little dress usually red in color and off to my Grandmother and Grandfather’s house we would go. We only lived a few blocks away from them. We would move three times in my childhood and still only be maybe 8 blocks away from my mother’s parents. My Dad’s parents on the other hand were quite a bit further from our house to theirs. I spent a lot more time with my mother’s parents, than I did my dad’s parents, I did love them all however, but differently. Only one of them, my mother’s mother still lives. She’s 99 and one can’t help but wonder how much time we have left, but then I’ve been wondering that for 19 years now.
Dressed in my girly girl dress off to Grandpa and Grandma’s house we’d go, to be joined by Aunts, Uncles and cousins. There would be a change in an aunt from time to time. My Uncle Lloyd had a bit of trouble keeping a woman in his life for any extent of time, and with that his children eventually moved far enough away, they would no longer be with us at Christmas, nor would we see them for many years. In the early days, there would be a house full of young children with giggles and adults with huge smiles and lots of laughter and believe it or not there would be no alcohol to bring this group to and through the good times. Well one might arrive full of the stuff, but there would be no drinking in those days at my Grandparent’s on Christmas Eve.
There would always be a big sit down meal, in my Grandma’s small kitchen. The adults would sit at the kitchen table and we children would sit at the long, old metal table, I know my Grandma still has, all of us together in one room, to share this Christmas Eve meal as a family.
On Christmas day my Dad would drive us to his parent’s house out in the country on a big farm, they rented. They were full blooded Norwegians, their parents or Great Grandparents having arrived off a boat to this new adventure. There would be Norwegian goodies, of Kringla and Krumkaka. In the early years it would be pretty quiet, I would be 9 I think before my first cousin Jeff came along, followed by my brother Aaron a few months later. There would be Christmas pictures of me holding the baby cousins that came along, like my cousin Karen, the baby when I was probably 11, who arrive 6 months after my brother. I don’t remember my Dad’s dad talking much at all, but I remember my Grandma’s smile and, like my mother’s parent’s house, we would sit together for our Christmas day meal. After my Grandmother died, the aunts and my mother would take turns having the Christmas Day gathering, but then the tradition died shortly after my mother’s passing.
I don’t remember the food or the gifts I received at my mother’s parent’s house on Christmas Eve, but I remember being together. My oldest cousin Zane was 4 years older than me and when I was 10, my brother Aaron was the baby of this tribe.
As I grew into adulthood this tradition did not change, we still gathered each Christmas Eve at Grandpa and Grandma’s house, but with children of our own to run through the house with giggles. Over the years some of us quit dressing up. I was one of the culprits exchanging dresses for warm fleece, maybe out of laziness, but some year’s guilty thinking of the expense of a fancy dress for one night and teenage kids exchanging suits and dress shirts for jeans and sometimes an offensive t-shirt. Some moved too far away to join us every year. Our tradition held, but it was a bit bruised.
As I grew in age I could remember a few of the gifts I received over these years. My cousin Theresa and I, at about age 14 and 15 were given our first pair of diamond earrings from our grandparents. What a special surprise for young ladies. As an adult my Grandmother gave each of us a quilt that had been made by her mother in law, our Great Grandmother. One year my cousin Sara and I were given Grandma’s ceramic chicken collection, as a child I had been paid a quarter to dust those old chickens. Another year I was given an old planter, a bit chipped and dinged. As a child I had admired this pretty piece at my Great Grandmother’s house. My Grandparents brought it home after she died. I remember seeing it in their house some time later and was overjoyed it had not been lost. I think I almost cried that Christmas when my Grandma passed it along to me. I know tears ran down my face one Christmas at my Mom and Dad’s, my mother’s last Christmas. She gave me an orange and black vase I had admired and asked her for, time and time again. When I opened that gift, the pain and realization that this was indeed my Mother’s last Christmas hit me full on in my heart, because she knew she was dying and wanted to give me that vase. Gifts which have no monetary price, some a bit broken, but they have a piece of my heart, a reminder of my childhood.
My Grandpa Emmett would be the first one to leave us in January 1985, that Christmas of 84 was a sad one, he was so weak, yet still prayed grace over the meal we were about to receive. My cousin Theresa talked of this Christmas just the other day as she and I both made a dash for my Grandparent’s bedroom to shed our tears and some of us, not to be named, wiped our nose on my Grandparent’s bedspread for lack of an available tissue, but I would not have been anywhere else. My Uncle Lloyd would be the next to leave in early December 1999, we didn’t know the Christmas before it would be our last with him. The last Christmas with my Aunt Marlene was 2004, she and I were both very sick, she dying from her cancer and me thinking I would die from mine.
We have had some very sad times at Christmas, but we have not spent them alone. We have been surrounded by family who knew our grief. Along the way my cousin Sara would lose her husband Dan and my cousin Zane would lose his first born son Ryan, my cousins would lose their father Forest and my brother and I would lose our mother Edie. She was the last of my Grandmother’s children to leave us. There would be divorces and sometimes remarriage; sometimes we would be joined by boyfriends or girlfriends and Santa Claus for the children and a few adults who were brave enough to sit on his lap. As the youngest grandchild, my brother Aaron was always called out to go sit by Santa, even when he was an adult.
The tradition has changed a bit these days, we meet a little earlier in the Eve and the sit down meal has been replaced with Sloppy Joes and sitting where you can find a chair. The aunts and uncles are gone, except for my father and at times we struggle and work hard to create those giggles and laughs of those childhood memories. Most of our children are grown, some have children of their own, some will join us, and some cannot. The big tree isn’t up, we won’t gather the children for pictures in front of that tree, we won’t all sit in the kitchen to eat our meal, some of us may or may not tolerate the one next to us, but we will be under that roof celebrating this Eve at Grandma’s house. Some of us may not always want to spend time together with one or two or several in this group, but we are a family, the remnants of that tribe that dressed up for the occasion to spend time together in awe and wonder of Christmas Eve. This Eve our tribe comes together.