Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A new kind of Christmas

I grew up in the suburbs of Buffalo, NY, in a nominally Christian household. Christmas was a very big holiday for me and my mother; significantly less so for my father and brother. It's not that they didn't care about the holiday, but just that the season as a whole meant much less to them than it did to us. Christmas Eve was very ritualized: there was the singing of carols; the addition of a last-minute snowfall to my mother's Christmas village; a lovely music-filled candlelight service at my church which routinely drew members of other churches; a walk home with stops to look at the nice light displays; a dinner of fruit, cheese, shrimp, and cocktail smokies wrapped in crescent roll dough; my mother's reading of An Account of a Visit From St. Nicholas (aka 'Twas the Night Before Christmas), and then an early trip to bed for the next day's presents, big breakfast (eggs scrambled with potatoes and sausage) and dinner (ham, at least 2 types of potatoes, at least 3 vegetables, rolls, Jell-O, and dessert), and the cat(s) playing with ribbons and bows. About half the time I got snow on either Christmas or Christmas Eve. When I was very little there was a large family celebration, but from around the time I was in kindergarten onward it was just the immediate family with possibly the addition of my mother's sister, who routinely slept over on Christmas Eve until my brother an I were in late middle school.

Things are different these days. My mother died some years back. My father has remarried, and moved to Florida for the winter. My childhood cat--more of my eventual step-mother's cat while I was in college and beyond--died over the past year, so won't be around to play with the wrapping and the low-hanging ornaments. I do most of my Christmas shopping on Amazon, so I don't face the holiday crowds. Tomorrow will feature a relatively late start, given that I'm the youngest person present (my step sister couldn't get the vacation time this year), and the dinner will be the 4 of us plus two couples of their friends.

So, today, the activities were a bit different. I finished fixing my dad's computer problems, fulfilling my role as a member of Generation Tech Support. I went for a run, an walked back in my shorts and overheating still. I just finished a large wrapping job for my step-mother, wrapping basically all of her gifts to my brother and to my father, while she and my dad are out at a cocktail party. And now I'm waiting for the delivery of some Chinese food, as my family has decided that if everyone already assumes we're Jewish, we might as well embrace it, even if we do still celebrate the secular holiday.

The first couples of years I spent Christmas down here, without my mother, seemed very weird to me. Now, it feels mostly normal, with the exception of the weather. That's to be expected, of course. I just wonder now: if I had a Christmas like those I grew up with again, would that feel weird? Does the new normal replace the old normal, or become an additional set of parameters that are added to the category of normal?

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