Monday, December 29, 2008

McFamily Christmas: Part 3, Customs and Peculiarities

Every family has their traditions and memory making moments and ours is no exception. Usually we decorate for Christmas at Thanksgiving, but November 2008 found us very crowded with 13 of us staying in the same house, and three of us were having symptoms of upper respiratory illness, so I decided to postpone the fun. Problem is that Muffin had to work late and later for the following two weeks, so he helped with the Christmas tree and I left all the boxes of decorations in the garage and every evening after teaching would sort of run to the garage, gather an armful of decorations, run back inside and put those up. This continued for about two weeks. By the time the McGirls, husband, and Grandtwins arrived, I had decorated fully. For this year, anyway.

Since this would be our first Christmas without Dubbie, I was concerned about Nannie, my Mom, and her emotional well-being. December is their wedding anniversary, his birthday, and of course, Christmas Day. When Papaw, Muffin’s Dad, passed away, Christmas Day was difficult because that was their wedding anniversary also. It is still difficult. But, one of my dear music teacher friends whose husband died several years ago made a wonderful suggestion. Her daughter had sent her a little gift each day for 12 days before Christmas. It was something to anticipate joyfully=HOPE. I began the series of gifts with some baked goodies, and an electric throw. She was so excited about the throw that she cried. A bitter cold front arrived that morning and the temperature plunged about 50 degrees overnight. Her bones ached and she was depressed and cold, but when she opened the gift, everything brightened, and remained brighter for the following 12 days.

Muffin bought apricot-white chocolate bread at a bakery for Nannie. CB brought a very cute retro toilet brush cleaner, some homemade shortbread, and photos of the RG’s. Boo sent an order of photos of Jbear and Gracie to the local Walgreen’s and I picked it up and dropped it in her mailbox, also leaving a gift sack with hand cream inside the storm door. Aunt Kaki brought teas and honey, and Muffin also bought a new reusable grocery bag for her. Joy sent a pillow for her back, just pre-heat in the microwave for hours of pain relief. I think we will do these “12 days gifts” again next year, making a new tradition.

Our family is a cookie family. We love to bake, decorate, and eat cookies. I’ve already mentioned the shortbread, which we cut into Christmas bells, angels, balls, and holly leaves and dipped in white chocolate. I made a new recipe from Paula Deen’s cookie swap. They are peppermint pinwheel cookies—essentially a peppermint flavored dough divided in half, rolled into a red and a white rectangle, then chilled, rolled together into a log, chilled again, and cut into one inch cookies. I placed little skewer into them, then cooled them and tied them up with bows and placed them in a vase. Lots of work, but very cute and verrrrrrry tasty. Yummy tradition!

CB whipped up a batch of gingerbread and chilled it overnight. On Christmas Eve she, Kaki and I rolled it out and cut out men, boys, trees, stars, angels, and morphs. Morphs would be what you get when you have an art major in the family. We had a couple of kangaroo/holly leaf morphs. A Christmas tree with a pumpkin on top. A few men with slightly altered appendages—leaves for legs or arms, very creative hair, and tree limbs hanging about them. There were a couple of men with boys baked together into a sort of “stand in front of me for the photo” pose. Anyway, we dipped some of them in white chocolate and left some of them plain and both are tasty. I think we’ve made G men for Christmas every year for about 30 years now. Definitely a tradition.

Most Christmas Eves we eat a big breakfast—quite late. Muffin is usually finishing the selection of photos for the McFamily calendar which is printed and given to Nana and Nannie. The Photo Calendar is definitely a tradition! Then we scurry around wrapping the last of the gifts, cooking what can be pre-made for Christmas Day, and get ready for the early evening service at our church. For the past 24 years we have attended the Christmas Eve Candlelight Service. This year our pastor read the Christmas story from the Bible, or told it, from a rocking chair, while holding a three year old in his lap and speaking to ten year old twins on the floor in front of him. The story was “interrupted” by songs and hymns illustrating the various events of Jesus’ birth. When he was finished our pastor said “That’s the entire story, but…” and before he could continue, little Roo pronounced with enough volume for several pews full of people to hear, “THE END”.

After the service one or more cars full of our family members tours around our small city to view Christmas light displays in window and yards. Some have continued traditions of animated exhibits and others are brand new, but all are delightful. (That was a pun. Christmas lights. Think about it.)

When we arrive at home we get the tamales, Spanish rice, guacamole, salsa and chips out on the table and eat. And eat. And….. eat. Then, some years, this one included, some of us are part of the music in late services in our city or others. So, we (I) drink Diet Coke to stay awake and be alert to play music for an 11:00 p.m. service. The foods are tradition. The music gigs, a peculiarity.

I would love for our family to have a new tradition of acting out the Christmas story while it is being read. As a child we did that very thing in drama and song every year before Christmas in our small church, and those “plays” are indelible memories. At first I was a small angel with coat hanger wings. Gradually I grew to be one of the choir angels, singing all the hymns with my Daddy who was also in the choir. “Away in a Manger”, “The First Noel”, “O Little Town of Bethlehem”, “O Come All Ye Faithful” and “We Three Kings” were regular hymns in the line-up. The lyrics of those hymns are so special to me. The theology in them is solid too. Teaching our grandchildren about God’s love is one of my greatest joys. As we held our candles above our heads and sang “Silent Night” I prayed that Em and Roo would understand the love poured out for them by Jesus, the gift of love from God, the continuous love we know from the Holy Spirit. That is not tradition or peculiarity, it is fact.

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