A Cornucopia of Thanks: Tradition

Pungent November scents fill the air on Thanksgiving day. The roast turkey at the center of it all, stuffing oozing from the seams. Homemade mashed potatoes and sweet potato balls rolled in brown sugar and walnuts, fresh cranberry sauce and –my personal favorite– the canned/gelled variety. I’d sneak in & steal parts of crisp turkey skin as my father was making the ceremonial slices. And once we were sufficiently stuffed and well-napped, with the endless melody of football as a backdrop, we’d return again to the table for apple and pumpkin pies with Nana’s homemade sweet sauce. These are the familiarities we come to rely on each Thanksgiving day. Like Norman Rockwell’s Freedom from Want painting depicting a traditional feast– so much food to be thankful for. And each other. Our family: mom and dad, me and my two siblings– until we grew and we grew and we grew.

Before we knew it, we acquired step members, and spouses and kids of our own. Our Thanksgiving tradition was morphing to accommodate our current statuses. Soon, other familial obligations took hold– the in-laws wanted to be part of the tradition as well, which prompted us to establish new traditions. Every other year, we’d all eat as a family, but it was those in between years that we missed not being all together. It seemed just not quite right to be giving thanks on a day when we couldn’t be with everyone we were so thankful for.

So, we created a new tradition: family film on Thanksgiving night. No matter where we spent Thanksgiving meal, we’d agreed to commune at a central local to enjoy a film which brought in the new holiday season: Christmas. My children were little when we began it (now in our eleventh year) and new children have been born and have taken there place as the current little ones. The challenge has always been finding something we all will appreciate: big and small, young and old. The underlying premise, a film released on Christmas day. Among them Eight Crazy Nights, Four Christmases, A Christmas Carol, Elf, The Santa Clause 3, How the Grinch Stole Christmas… Now, that my children are nearly all grown, the first question that arises in talking about the holiday season is, “What movie are we seeing this year?” It’s one they research as soon as possible in order to get the seal of approval from the aunts and uncles and cousins; Nonni and Poppy and Marguerite and Clarence always go along with whatever we decide and are simply just happy that their families are all together.

This year our selection is Rise of the Guardians. Just another year, and another film to end Thanksgiving and welcome Christmas with all of the people we are most thankful for.



Waiting and Dreaming

Do you remember when you were little & you couldn’t wait until Thanksgiving passed to see all the stores embellished for Christmas? Waiting impatiently by the mailbox, you’d close your eyes tight, thinking the tighter you closed them, the quicker your wish for the arrival of the Sears WISH book would come true. And day after day, you’d beckon your parents for that chance to sit upon Santa Claus’s lap, have the annual picture snapped, so he was sure to bring just the right gifts. Time melted slowly, one day dripping into the next– seemingly taking forever, as you’d count down on the Nativity calendar. Then, it arrived: Christmas Eve, the commotion of family and cornucopia of food made the night go by quickly enough, and while you were too excited to sleep, you knew that if you didn’t Santa might never come. So you’d nod off quickly only to wake up, time and time again to the dark night, listening for the sleigh bells, or the footsteps of reindeer or a whoosh down the chimney, one eye open, just in case Santa was, indeed, watching, then cajoling yourself back to sleep. And suddenly, morning crept up and you and your siblings were allowed to bound down the stairs to the sight of the Christmas tree all aglow with piles upon piles of gifts underneath. Once the opening began, the day swallowed you up with excitement and passed in a blink. It all seemed like a dream.

I would consider this same kind of waiting akin to anticipating my wedding day. Two years: plenty of time to plan precisely and, simultaneously, eons away. When the planning was hectic, time flew with appointments for hall tours (big enough to fit EVERYONE or small and quaint?), invitations (the wording choice difficulties with three sets of parents), bridesmaids’ colors and dress styles (to make all the girls look good), my own dress (off the shoulder, Queen Ann’s neck, or strapless?), matchbook covers and napkins (the first official concrete evidence of our union). But when the planning was at a lull, time dragged in warped speed. Until THE day, when the only thing I made a point to savor was our vows; I consciously made a point to live in those moments. The rest, I became caught up in; it all seemed like one big blur, overwhelming and over stimulating, all at once, but a smile planted, subconsciously on my face the whole day. On the return flight home from our 10 day trip to Hawaii, I turned to my husband (my HUSBAND!), and said, “Doesn’t it all seem like a dream.”

Waiting for the birth of my three children was nerve-wracking, especially for the first. I didn’t know if I’d know when I was in labor, or if I’d distinguish my water breaking from having to pee really bad (because it seemed the last trimester all I did was pee– A LOT!). Once in the hospital, the moments between the centimeters dilating were literally, at first, hours, and I’d watch the bleeps on the monitor beside my bed move up and down in uneven rhythms. Waiting. Once each of them we’re born, it reaffirmed for me that I was, indeed, living the dream.

Now, with two in college– one in Vermont and one on externship on Cape Cod, I wait for those moments to all be together again, the only time I really feel complete and whole. After two long months having not seen my eldest, he surprised me two weeks ago when I came home to him in my kitchen. Taken off guard, I dropped what I was holding and ran to embrace him, tears streaming, uncontrollably down my cheeks. I cherished each moment that he was here (even if it were for only two short days), dropping my plans, just enjoying him & living in the moment. And it seemed like the longest two weeks before we’d be fetching our middle son for the weekend (it had been a month of waiting, longing to hug him). Never in his life had I been away from him for more than 5 days at a time; a month seemed like an eternity. But the moment he hugged me, it elapsed time and rebonded the dream, interrupted.

Ironically, Thanksgiving is the next day I will be waiting for, the next time my whole family will be together. I will not want to wish it away. Instead, I’ll want to live it in slow motion. The laughter that comes, easy and unmeasured; the wrestling between siblings, and down on the floor with the dogs; the half-full glasses left on the coffee table with watermarks beneath them; the pillows piled haphazardly on the floor; the shoes in the middle of every walk way; the sweatshirts heaped in a pile on the kitchen table; the sounds of television and Ipod and videogames; the consciousness of bodies filling up the space; the endless, random chatter; the call of immediacy to “look at this, Mom”; the garage door being left open to let in the cold; the lights on in the bathroom; the laundry strewn on the hallway floor beside the basket; the peace I feel when they are all sleeping soundly in their beds, dreaming sweet dreams.

F. Scott Fitzgerald got it right when inventing Benjamin Button (“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button“) the character who lived life backwards. It’s only after years of experience and the acquisition of wisdom that truly enables one to appreciate all the people and events worth waiting for and the foresight not to allow them to pass without living them fully.

Merry Christmas

“The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree: the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other” ~Burton Hillis

Christmas is

Listening, eyes shut tight, while laying in bed, for the sounds of Santa

Sitting in Grandpop’s lap while he reads “Twas the Night Before Christmas”–

the snow gently falling outside

Debbie, Michael and I, waking at 3 a.m. to share opening our stocking gifts together
long before the morning light

Mom listening the whole year through for what we really wanted for Christmas,

all the things we’d long forgotten,

when we didn’t even realize she was listening

Creeping downstairs to sneak a peak at the gifts before our parents awoke

Anticipating an engagement ring wrapped in a tiny, red box

Anthony & I opening gifts on Christmas Eve because we couldn’t wait for

Ryan’s second Christmas, awakening after his nap to discover the whole family,
gasping, “Everyone I wuv”

After opening presents, Tyler declaring, “We must have been really, really good
this year”

Alexa taking great care to leave just the right cookies & hot chocolate for Santa,
never forgetting carrots for the reindeer

Morning letters from Santa, recapping the year past

Reaching out of the windows in the kids’ rooms

to implant the tracks of the elves footprints, so when they awakened,

they’d know Santa had sent the elves to be sure

Ryan, Tyler and Alexa were fast asleep

Lazy monkey bread Christmas mornings investigating the gifts we’d gotten from
under the tree

Christmas Eve food extravaganza of shrimp, lobster, clams, crabs, tuna, mussels,
cod… cheesecake, mulled cider, cookies & candy aplenty

The piles of gifts for each child across the family room because our family had
grown, grown, grown

Untangling the Christmas lights, fighting over where to put them on the tree

Building and assembling the Dicken’s village, then standing back to watch it aglow

Picking up the fallen tree and broken ornaments, realizing that, while sentimental,

they didn’t really define Christmas

Lighting candles to remember those we lost

Tracking Santa as he moved across the world, anticipating what time to go to sleep

Looking around to see each and every face of those we love so much

Being together, putting all differences aside, to simply be