Tuesday, January 01, 2008


the holidays are different for me now.

when i was younger, and living with my grandparents, the holidays were always a big event. which was odd, given that they came from northern european stock, and those cultures are not known for large, outgoing celebrations. but this was probably a reflection of their family's assimilation into American mainstream society, complete with a formalized canon of rituals leading into the end of December: the careful post-Thanksgiving setting and decoration of the Christmas tree, the laying out of holiday lights and candles and table-top nativity scenes, the display of incoming Christmas cards, and the increased attendance of evening vespers at the church. all this, with the seasonal opening of the wood pile and evening fires, holiday songs, and party tableware.

and it wasn't just for us. for them, Christmas and New Year's were large, elaborate, social affairs that reached outside of family to friends and neighbors. part of this was their annual invitation to individual disadvantaged families in their church. part of this was that my grandparents had somehow found themselves situated in a row of neighbors that shared connections to Scandinavia, the U.S. Navy, federal and state civil service, and a common retirement age--and all inexplicably located by pure chance in the middle of Texas, necessitating the call for frequent common get-togethers at every major point in the calendar. the result were expansive dinners for both holidays, with multiple tables and multiple buffets spread throughout different rooms with guests often numbering well into double digits.

it was nothing raucous. but it wasn't genteel either. just a typical family party atmosphere, and everyone engaged in a good time and various adjoining conversations over food and drink running well into the night.

for me, these occasions were always a bit uncomfortable. they just weren't my personality. i tended to be a bit reclusive, and particularly shy. socializing in large group settings was not something i found natural, even for people i knew.

my favorite times often came after the celebrations, often in the evenings when everyone had gone home, and always in the days following each party. then, my grandparents would retreat to more quiet settings, with just the 3 of us in the house, surrounded by music and decorations and candles and cards and presents by the tree with the fragrance of wood in the fireplace rising up the chimney in the winter chill. my grandmother would knit. my grandfather would watch the fire. sometimes, they'd just read. usually, they'd listen to the radio. always, they'd go through the greetings in the mail. and as the days came to New Year's, they'd add in a shared avocation for college football and the annual slate of bowl games.

those were special moments to me. more quiet. more still. more prone to self-reflection and recollection and thought, and the sharing of the something that lets you know there is nothing so special as time.

even with the accompaniment of the bowl games, the mail, the radio, or the reading, those times invariably settled to a central theme of talking. talking about everything. nothing. whatever came in the passage of silence known to be significant. talking about all that had gone before, all that was yet to come, and all that it meant in that singular point in time together in a way that showed how it all was supremely profound.

i could tell my grandparents felt that way too.

i asked them once why, if they preferred the quiet times after the celebrations, they still made so much effort for the big events for the holidays. my grandmother had replied that it was so we could have memories.

things are pretty different for me now. both grandparents passed away. i grew up. i'm living on my own. and i'm tied up with the usual burden of work and school and bills and responsibilities, compounded in recent years with training for this thing people call Ironman.

as i've gotten older and made my own way, i've tended to follow my personality towards what my nature seems to be suited, and found myself spending holidays in much more quiet ways. there's been no large gatherings, elaborate affairs, or big celebrations. no multi-table or multi-buffet meals. no invited guests or neighbors. instead it's largely been just me with my parents, with not much more than a small tree, a small selection of greeting cards, and a small meal around a small table. sometimes, increasingly, it's even been just me alone.

i do what i can. there's still reading. the radio. the greetings. and the slate of college bowl games.

but there's nothing to compare to the holidays past.

which is why they're so poignant now.

because my grandmother was right. in the back of my mind, in the recesses of my memories, i still remember the celebrations of all the Christmases and New Years of before. as vivid and alive and joyous as they were when they first happened.

and with them, they bring back the echoes of life. mine, and more importantly, others. they bring back the people i miss in every moment. especially the special moments. like the Christmas and New Year of now. with all the ones gone before and all the ones yet to come and all that it means forever together in infinite ways supremely profound and in the passage of silence that is significant.

i think of them often.

i think of them all the time.

and the holidays, as they always shall be, are once again the same.

1 comment:

Kendra said...

This was a nice, thoughtful post. I know you wrote it awhile ago. But I enjoyed it tonight nonetheless.