Friday, November 26, 2010

I Survived!!!

I can't believe how quickly the year has passed. It seems like yesterday that I was announcing to the world my intentions to live a year in the life of a Christmas Tree and now I've come full circle as I get ready to decorate the tree for Christmas.

As I sit here this morning after Thanksgiving, I find myself lost in reflection. I spent some time rereading the previous posts as a reminder to myself of how I got here. My memories go much deeper than this past year and the blog posts and I seem to find a greater understanding of how I got here and WHY this experiment (or experience) meant so much.

I have nothing but amazing, happy, warm memories of my childhood holidays. In fact those memories were so ingrained that it led me to a period of holidays as an adult that left me feeling anything but happy. As a young adult and the oldest, married daughter of an Italian family, Christmas (and all the other holiday gatherings) fell on my shoulders. It is some kind of unwritten by law in the growing up Italian handbook right there along the rule thou shall NEVER serve sauce from a jar no matter how convenient.

My immediate family was living in Florida a great distance from our extended family and so it was just the 5 of us. The Christmas holiday started its spiral downward trend for me our very first Christmas in Ft. Lauderdale where we found ourselves spending the day on the beach. Nothing like a lifeguard in red trunks and a Santa hat that says, "We're not in Connecticut anymore Toto." To add further insult to injury, my mother decorated the house that year with a 3 foot pop up Christmas tree. Literally, the woman opened a box and out came this little tree fully decorated and ready for table top display. To this day we still harass her about that one.

Far away from family, my mother would open up our home to all the other "strays" who had no family to spend the holidays with and that was how it started. Years later, living in Central Florida, I was married with a family of my own and the job of holiday hostess became mine. My family owned a restaurant and so although we had no extended family we certainly had a huge gathering of friends and as it had been further South, the need to make certain everyone had a place to spend the holidays continued and now it was in my home.

Growing up our holidays were something straight out of a Currier and Ives print. Christmas Eve was always spent at my Mother's parent's house which was next door to ours. My Aunt, Uncle and cousins lived to the other side of our house and we would all gather at the Grandparents. The table was set with Grandmother's finest China, everyone dressed in their holiday best attire and the evening almost always concluded with the family sitting in the formal living room enjoying Christmas music played by my Grandfather on the organ.

Every year as a young adult, I tried desperately to bring to my home and my children those memories I held so dear. Every year I failed miserably. At times we had well over 25 people crammed around tables that stretched from my kitchen through my family room and then some. The fine China had been replaced by Chinette, the fancy attire gone and the magical memories of my youth were completely lost in my feelings of overwhelm and pure exhaustion. In fact, it was not until about 10 p.m. on Christmas night that I would have my "Christmas." Alone in the dining room, long after the crowd had left and my own family was tucked away asleep...I would sit in the silence and the dark except for the glowing lights of the Christmas tree and the last flicker of the candles on the table to enjoy a glass of wine and the blissful quiet. Often times tears would silently flow down my face. The holiday was over and I had failed again.

It wasn't until many years later when we were blessed with our last child right before Thanksgiving that I finally "got" it. Four days after giving birth, the family and extended others gathered around my dining room table again. Left to the kitchen alone to clean the remaining dishes, I burst in to sobs at the thought of another approaching Christmas. In hindsight I'm sure much of my emotional breakdown was due to the exhaustion of a newborn baby and hormones running amok. My husband appeared from the bedroom after putting our new bundle to sleep and noticed my meltdown. Boy...did he notice it, I couldn't stop the sobbing and all of the previous year's holiday anguish flooded to the top and boiled over. He then said something that changed my holiday views from there on in...He told me that our children could never miss what they did not have. At first I was angered by his comment, but he went on to explain. "You haven't failed them for your memories are yours, and their memories are theirs and you have done an outstanding job of providing them with wonderful ones."

As I listen to my grown children now talk about the holidays we have shared, I realize my husband was right. They have nothing but warm, happy memories.

We now live in Georgia and our first Christmas here was just the 5 of us and I could not believe how much I missed the "stress" of our holidays in Florida. Our first Christmas celebration was over in what seemed like minutes. We have since made an adjustment and started our own new traditions to insure that the entire day is celebrated. In the evening we find ourselves enjoying the company of our friends who are like family to us as we all make an effort to make new memories in our lives which have transported us from those we love "back home."

Comes 10 p.m. on Christmas night I still take time out for "my Christmas." It has become one of my most cherished times of the holiday season. The tears still show up, but they are happy ones. As I sign off, I can't help but wonder if my Grandmother and my Mother shed tears on Christmas...and I can't help but rejoice in the fact that my daughter; the oldest of our family will be married soon and I'll get to pass the torch. I will do it however only if and when she is ready and should she feel the need to use jarred sauce in her holiday will be okay with me.

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