December 26, 2018

Christmas . . . the Beginning of All That Can Be

Six weeks ‘til Christmas!  Only 5 more shopping days until Christmas!  Holiday sale ends in 4 hours and 32 minutes!  All the hype in today’s society lead us to believe that Christmas is the culmination of all things “holiday.”  But, when you think about it, the focus is not on Christmas itself; the focus is on getting ready for Christmas.  Or, more to the point, it’s about how many ways retailers can get you to part with your money before the dawn of Christmas Day.  Why does Christmas seem to mark the end of something when, in fact, it celebrates a beginning?

I was raised as a Catholic in a middle class, blue collar family.  My parents didn’t have a lot of money to spare and I know my Mom managed their finances carefully during the year to provide what looked like a mountain of gifts under our Christmas tree.  I can remember only a few special gifts from my childhood.  What I do remember is how Mom made Christmas feel like a magical season.  Right after Thanksgiving, she’d go up into the attic and pull down boxes upon boxes of Christmas linens, decorations and knick-knacks.  I can still picture the red tablecloths she made and embellished with a green embroidered design thanks to her trusty sewing machine.  I watched her write out dozens of Christmas cards at the kitchen table and walked to the Post Office with her to send them on their way to places near and far.  One card always went to her friend Hildred with a note that referenced getting together during the year.  Hildred’s, of course, said the same but, for years, they never managed to connect.  Until someone finally decided that enough was enough, picked up the telephone and extended an invitation.  I don’t recall whether it was Mom or Hildred who made the first move; what I do know is that the two of them went on to have many fun-filled adventures together, one of which has become a hilarious family story about Nana and her friend Hildred that has been passed down to our kids.  The next item on Mom’s list was the selection of a Christmas tree which often took place at a mid-town tree lot.  My Dad would drive Mom, me and my Mom’s sister, our beloved Aunt Jennie, to the lot, but left the incredibly important task of finding the perfect trees to us.  Dad never complained about wrangling two trees into or onto the car and delivering them to our living rooms.  He never actually said he enjoyed it, either, but I know he didn’t complain about it.  I have no doubt that my mother’s Christmas spirit would have overcome any objection my father might have made.  Next up was Christmas baking – literally dozens upon dozens of Christmas cookies.  That, my friends, has remained my most favorite Christmas memory.  Not because of the cookies themselves (although they were really yummy and I still use one of Mom’s recipes to this day), but because of the incredible amount of fun I had with my mother as we would spend an entire day or two baking together.  I was just a little tyke when I first started baking Christmas cookies with my Mom, and that tradition continued into my adult years and through the arrival of my children who, of course and much to my mother’s delight, began baking Christmas cookies with Nana when they were little tykes, too.  Once the baking was done, my Mom’s thoughts turned to meal planning.  Early Christmas morning consisted of opening gifts and attending Mass at St. Joseph’s but, shortly after that, we enjoyed a big mid-day Christmas dinner with various aunts, uncles and cousins which was followed by a gathering of Mom’s extended family at our house Christmas evening.  Big Italian family + small house = a cozy gathering that all the cousins looked forward to every year.  I can remember using the kitchen radiator as a seat and feeling like a salmon swimming upstream as I tried to make my way from the kitchen to the living room.  Honestly, I don’t know how my Mom did it all since she handled most of the holiday cooking, although I do remember years when she and my Dad would attend different Masses simply so someone was at home while the turkey was in the oven.  Those holiday activities and the time spent with family will remain treasured memories forever.  As a kid, I was so sad every year when the Christmas decorations were packed away.  It felt like a huge let down after the delightful and fun-filled holiday season.

Christmas Day may seem like the end of something but, in fact, it marks a beginning as we celebrate the birth of Christ.  Alan and I raised our two children as Catholics but, by choice and mutual agreement, our family no longer attends Mass.  I consider myself a spiritual person and feel that all four of us are, in our own ways.  My church of choice now is the great outdoors; in nature, I find the peace and direction that eluded me in a formal church setting.  To this day, we display a Nativity set at home during the Christmas season with the Baby Jesus hiding out behind the stable until His “birth” on Christmas Day.  This is done out of respect, not disrespect.  The reason for the season is to celebrate His arrival and all that it means.  The small act of placing Him in the stable with His mother and father on Christmas morning brings the day into focus and reminds us that the day’s celebration and festivities are because of Him, not in spite of Him.  Even this year, I’ve watched our kids, Ryan and Kyra (now both young adults), check separately to be sure that the Baby Jesus was safely tucked away behind the stable.  They both made light of it at the time, yet on Christmas Day each of them made sure that the Baby had been “born” and moved to His rightful place.

My Mom may have packed away our Nativity set and our holiday decorations every year, but she never packed away the spirit of the season which, to me, is represented by loving and giving.  Our Christmas activities – decorating, sending Christmas cards, trimming a tree, baking cookies, wrapping gifts and preparing Christmas dinner - may have been limited to the month of December, but they reflected Mom’s cheerful outlook on life and her love for family and friends.  She lived the values behind those activities throughout the year.  Our home was always clean and welcoming; letters to far-away family members and friends, and phone calls to those closer to home, continued throughout the year as she stayed in touch with the many people who were important to her.  Cakes were baked, coffee was brewed, pots of pasta sauce were simmered and meals were planned with the people she loved in mind.  Everyone knew they were welcome at our home at any time, resulting in frequent visit from friends and family members – some of whom happened to be in the neighborhood and some of whom made the trip just to spend time with Mom and her family.  My Mom’s life was, above all, about family, and whether you were family by birth or via choice didn’t matter in the least.  She was a woman with many virtues – patience, kindness, good humor, generosity, optimism – but it was her joyful spirit of loving and giving that confirmed for me that Christmas Day reflects not an ending, but a beginning of all the good things in our world that can be. 

So, yes, I did share a Christmas celebration with friends and family members - I hope you were as fortunate to do so, as well, if you were so inclined.  And I did enjoy the decorating, the gift wrapping, the meal planning and (most of all) the cookie baking.  The trappings of the holiday will soon be packed away for another year, but I plan to work diligently at keeping the spirit of Christmas – the love and generosity of the season – alive throughout the year ahead.  Chocolate crinkle cookies, anyone?

My Mom passed away three days before Christmas fifteen years ago.  That first Christmas was extremely difficult to navigate, but having young children quickly forces one to put up a good front.  The next couple of Christmas seasons were tough, too, but eventually I came to embrace Christmas as a special time to remember my Mom - not to grieve again and again at her passing, but to celebrate her spirit of loving and giving, to one and to all, every day of her long and full life.  Her name was Angeline.  Quit fitting, don’t you think? 


  1. Aren't we fortunate to have such great memories of childhood Christmases? My memories of that magical time are very similar, and now we're able to live it all over again through the eyes of our grandsons. Just doesn't get much better than that. Here's to a healthy and happy 2019!

    1. We are so very fortunate, that's for sure. No grandchildren on our end (not yet, anyway), but both kids still enjoy participating in some of our traditional Christmas activities even though they're young adults. I must admit that, once they could no longer fit a trip to the tree farm into their schedules, Alan and I decided that it was time to transition to an artificial tree. I thought I would miss the tree cutting much more than I actually did. Must be that the timing was just right. A Happy New Year and safe travels in 2019 to you and Sandy, Mike!


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