Far from home, far from the family traditions that make Christmas a comfortable and predictable holiday, and far from the snowy Montreal winters, it’s always hard for me to find the right state of mind to enjoy the holidays here. But we’re building our own traditions and finding our own comforts in Christmas, and I’ll get there.
I miss the chaos of the family around Grandmaman’s table, and the ceramic Santa boot filled with toothpicks for the olive-and-pickle plate that was always my job to fill. I miss the men of the family taking turns and stepping up to fill the fake scratchy beard and old Santa suit that Grandpapa wore to hand out presents. Even when we were all too old for Santa, an uncle or cousin would dress up and sit by the tree and call out the names on the gift tags, adding in a Ho Ho Ho here and there for good measure. I remember the Christmas decorations that would come out of the tissue paper every year – the ceramic angel in the green dress, holding the candle with the world’s tiniest light bulb at the tip, and the plastic houses of the Christmas Village, with their warmly-lit yellow cellophane windows.
That’s gone now, but I know it lives in the memory of all my cousins as vividly as it does in mine. One cousin has the Santa suit, and wore it to a party this year, being very careful not to damage it, because he knows it will be used in the next generation of Christmases, as the cousins all grow up and have our own families. I’m homesick, but I’m homesick for the past, which I can’t have back.
This year, my husband and I had a wonderful Christmas Eve, with a crackling fire, lap blankets made of purring cats, and It’s a Wonderful Life on TV (again). Snuggled with my man by the fireplace, laughing at Horton fighting with the shredded wrapping paper, I managed to find the Christmas spirit I’d been missing. We played some old-fashioned Quebec Christmas music, the kind I used to cringe away from with embarrassment when Mom played it, but secretly have always loved. We had a great meal and exchanged presents on Christmas Eve, making it our own little Reveillon, even though we didn’t have the huge chaotic family to go along with it.
We’ll be at my in-laws today, enjoying their family traditions and their welcoming warmth, and it’s going to be a merry Christmas. It’s my nephew’s very first Christmas, and I can’t wait to find out, thirty years from now, what little things he will remember about the family Christmases we’ll be sharing, and what he will want to carry on with his own family.
Merry Christmas, everyone.