I recently attended my daughter’s holiday concert at her preschool and it was as adorable as you’d imagine. And I cried. OBVIOUSLY. The 3 year old’s and 4 year old’s sang in unison as they did their “choreography”, but my baby’s 2’s… Nah… They weren’t feeling it. No one sang but the teachers. They were waving to their parents and I was smiling, as my eyes filled with tears of joy. I received FOUR “Hi Mommies!” from her. Swoon. Her first holiday concert… She’s really grown up now. We aren’t just carting her around in her car seat and dressing her up like a doll for the holidays anymore. She’s aware of things. She sang of Christmas lights and Dreidels and of Santa Claus Coming to Town. At almost 28 months, I can’t get much passed her. It is far time I work through the mess and frustration of making holiday crafts and baking cookies with her as more and more I’m reminded of the importance of family traditions and togetherness.
Growing up, we had many traditions at Christmas. The main one was that I was always sick. Guess what? I’m carrying that tradition down to my family right now! My daughter is too! That’s an easy one! Tradition Number 1- HANDLED! Yes, I was always sick and you can tell in all the pictures…. In first grade I came home with Chicken Pox, a gift that you can give to your siblings too! How delightful! Clearly I’m a pro. From making gingerbread houses out of graham crackers to our Cinnabon cinnamon buns breakfast eaten off of my Great Grandmother’s hand painted holly dishes, we had many things we came to expect during Christmas that I remember fondly every year.
We usually spent Christmas day at home in Pennsylvania, just the 5 of us. My siblings and I would tinker with new toys, and try on new clothes The day after Christmas was when we all piled in the car and drove from PA to Long Island, NY. That’s where the real fun began. For those of you that don’t know that drive …. It’s a freaking nightmare of a drive. It’s turnpikes to bridges to turnpikes to bridges to parkways … Awful ones like the Belt Parkway. The Belt Parkway is like a highway to hell or a forced family boot camp in hell … Basically anything in hell. It’s never good. It’s never moving, and if it is, people are driving like maniacs. Imagine 3 kids in the back seat complaining and whining and fighting over who gets to listen to their tape next. We all took turns … Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, Whitney Houston… Imagine my parents in the front seat as I asked them to turn up “La Isla Bonita” because it was so amazing. This was before cell phones and WAZE and google maps. We’re going to be 2 hours later than expected? Oh Well! Honestly. What a mess it must have been. We all had to eat our snacks carefully as to not dirty up my Dad’s company car. So there was that added pressure of needing to keep the car looking good while 3 kids ate peanut butter and jelly! Yikes! Sorry Dad! The trip was LONG, and we just wanted to get there already. Once we got there it was Christmas number 2! It meant brightly colored Christmas lights and cable tv. It meant that Nana bought us the little boxes of sugar cereals like Cocoa pebbles and Frosted Flakes and let’s not forget coffee cake! You gotta have coffee cake for breakfast. (To this day, my Grandpa eats coffee cake at breakfast. The man is almost 90. Clearly cake at breakfast is OK.) I always remember pulling up to my Grandparent’s Levittown home at Christmas. The brightly colored lights, the little twinkling tree in the bay window … Oh it was magic. It’s incredible how I can close my eyes and remember like yesterday…I can smell it…I can hear the creaking of the staircase, the fireplace of white bricks where our stockings hung… The blue carpet. … The couches with big blue flowers … My Grandparents always had the biggest trees covered in shiny tinsel. Tinsel! How daring…what a beautiful mess that stuff was…The memories from that house are forever alive in me as some of the most joyful days of my life. Forget Disney. 7 Giant Lane was the happiest place on Earth.
For most of those years, my brother and sister and I were the only grandchildren, so the focus was on us. The blue carpet was our stage and we were the players… My little sister doing a dance with her pink slippers that we all remember as fuzzy feet dance… my brother and I putting on some show pretending to hold a microphone…. It was so ridiculous I’m sure, but greeted with cheers and applause from our audience of Aunts, Uncles and Grandparents. The children were the main event; there were no cell phones and tablets. No one was checking their phone to see if they had an “emergency“ text or email from work. There was no TV on in the background. It was Christmas. It was family time and that was that. Giant Lane Christmas wasn’t about the gifts, (though there were TONS and maaaaybe as a little girl it was… I’ll never forget the year Aunt Bea made me a dollhouse, blue with white shutters, complete with flowers in the window which now lives in my parents house). It was about being together…I remember always laughing and feeling so full of joy even if did have a fever and 4 cold sores. What could be better than sitting in the living room on the blue carpet with my siblings buried in wrapping paper and bows, (which we always had to keep and give to Nana so we could re use them of course!) I remember the dining table set up like the letter T. The main table followed by several long folding tables and a sprinkling of folding chairs, and kitchen chairs, a desk chair from one room and another from Nana’s sewing room. We would start off the meal with our family’s recipe of homemade raviolis, (a meal in itself), but then move on to the main event of turkey or roast beef. But for my siblings and I, it was just something that came before dessert. Dessert was the most important for us kids because we didn’t have treats in our house with the exception of graham crackers. Our eyes would be open wide in the wonder of the long table covered in Italian butter cookies from the bakery, THE famous chocolate cake my Nana made for every holiday, (half covered in walnuts), the green star-shaped dish full of butter mints, boxes of Sees and Russell Stover, homemade cookies and rice krispie treats…and on and on and on. In a word – it was a dream.
It was truly the best of times. And you know, looking back, who knows if it brought everyone else as much joy as it did us kids. I’m not sure it was my parent’s idea of a vacation to hop in the car and make a 4 hour trip with 3 kids in the back so we could all sleep in one room; my parents in 2 single beds pushed together and “attached” by a double bed sheet. I put myself in their shoes now and I can’t say I would do the same. They could have opted for a less hectic time than the holidays to get together because it was more convenient. I’m so glad they didn’t. I’m so grateful for the memories in that house. There is something so sacred about them. The memories are the true gifts we received all those years and we all know it because we all look back and say, “ahhh those were the good old days….” They will live forever in all of us. I close my eyes and …there we all are … together…laughing… the lights of the tree twinkling behind us…the tinsel stuck to our clothes. I hope I can create memories as magical as these with my daughter because I know there is no gift I can wrap up for her that will be as special as the moments we share together. Time to get out the graham crackers and make that gingerbread house!