Boys will be boys and then they make you cry – round 2

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He did it to me again.  My now 17-year-old nephew has created a Christmas memory that brought me to tears.  Three years ago, several months after we lost my mother, and his Nana, I wrote this post about his wonderful Christmas gesture that reduced me to a puddle once I was safely in the confines of my home.  This year, he managed to pull at my heart-strings once again, forcing me to swallow my raw emotion until I got home.

Our Christmas Eve tradition has not changed.  We all gather at the end of my brother’s driveway to watch Santa Claus cruise through the streets atop the fire truck, we go to the Christmas service at the church and then we all go home to finish up the last-minute wrapping for the big day.  This year was different.  My nephew insisted that we all go back to my brother’s house after church because he wanted to give us his Christmas gifts when we were all together.  Carefully he placed his gifts in the laps of his family and grinned from ear to ear as we tore off the paper to see what lay underneath.

Each of us received a gift that he had given great thought to and created with his own hands.  Attached to a piece of very sentimental barn-board was a piece of metal that he had carved for each of us with our last name and either our year of birth or our year of marriage.  This is my beautiful sign.

The Christmas spirit is alive and well and now resides in the heart of my nephew.  He truly felt the joy of giving.  His face was animated as he watched each of us run our fingers along the names he had carved into our signs.  He was more excited for us to receive our gifts than he was to think about what lay under the tree for him on Christmas morning.  He gets it.  He now knows that the true gift at Christmas is the one  you give and not the one you receive.

I couldn’t bring myself to tell him how much his gift meant until I had been home and had time to process my emotion.  After I shed a few tears, I texted him and told him how much his gift touched my heart.  He is coming over later today to help me put up the sign that I will look at with great pride and emotion for a very long time.

My letter to Santa this year

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Dear Santa,

I hope this letter finds you well and feeling the joy of the season.

I have spent many hours considering what I would like for Christmas this year.  I do believe you will find my name on the nice list so I thought I would save you some time when it came to my gift.

santa's list

I want life experiences for my gift this year.  I want to sit in a room with my family and laugh until we cry because the joke is something only we would understand.  I want my brother and I to share a toast to my parents and take a moment to remember my dad waking us up at 6:00 am by cranking the Beach Boys vinyl album and my mom inevitably leaving a price tag on at least one of our gifts and then finding the last gift sometime in April because she had hidden it so well.

I want to really watch my nephews this year as they tear open their mountain of presents.  It seems like only yesterday they had no real concept of what was happening and now I’m going to blink and they will both be off to University and, soon after that, having Christmases of their own.

I want to embrace the friends I have and let them know how lucky I feel to be able to call them friends.  I want them to know how much they mean to me and how close I hold that friendship to my heart.

I want to take a quiet moment or two during the holidays and reflect on all of the wonderful things that happened to me throughout the course of the year.  And I want the words “I love you” to be a comfortable phrase that gets shared a lot, and not just during the holidays.

I know you are a busy man this time of year so I shall leave it at that.  I will be waving at you on Christmas Eve as we stand at the end of my brother’s driveway and watch you go by on the Fire Truck as I have every year since I was seven years old.

Merry Christmas Santa.

The magic of Christmas

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Christmas, for me, doesn’t feel as magical as it used to when my parents were still alive.  My dad was the biggest kid of all and he would happily stroll through malls that were bulging at the seams with shoppers trying to find that perfect gift. He would also be on the phone at 6:00 am on Christmas morning, pulling us from our slumber to make sure we were up and ready to come over to open presents.  The Beach Boys Christmas album would be blaring in the background, as it was each Christmas morning, and he would impatiently pace around the overflowing tree until we arrived.

My mother would embrace her inner elf and make their house look like Santa’s workshop had overflowed into every room and the smell of fresh-baked cookies and other goodies always filled the air.  The dining room table, that was once filled with tins of cookies she had made for many of the local businesses, would be set to perfection with all of the festive tablecloths, napkins and candles.

Perhaps some of my Christmas spirit was taken when they left.  Maybe it also has to do with the fact that I don’t have kids of my own and my nephews are now teenagers, so the urge to feel elvish is lower on the register.  But over the last couple of years, I have been finding much more of my Christmas spirit through the annual toy drive I have run every year for the last five years.

With a stuffed Rudolph safely tucked onto my dashboard so his red nose could lead the way, we drove two cars full of toys to the Food Bank today and were able to be there to help some of the families find the perfect gifts to give to their kids on Christmas morning.  To say I am now bursting with Christmas spirit is a gross understatement.  It was so heart-warming being able to stay and see the smiles as parents got to pick out the toys they knew their kids would love.

The spirit of giving is truly what the holiday is about.  And since I have just been injected with an overdose of that spirit, I think it’s time to go home, turn the tree lights on and crank some carols by the Beach Boys.  Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

The traditions of Christmas

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Each year, when my father was still with us, he would phone at 6:00 am to wish me a Merry Christmas and get the day started.  This year, I expect the lines from Heaven will be clear again Christmas morning and that phone in my head will ring just prior to that dreaded time in the morning.  But this, admittedly, is among the favorites of my Christmas memories.

There are many Christmas traditions we still follow and, although they become slightly modified as the years pass, the holidays wouldn’t be the same without them.  After we moved to our tiny little town, Christmas Eve was spent bundled in our warmest winter gear standing at the end of our driveway.  The sirens could be heard before the truck was spotted and the lights would crest the hill by our house.   Santa Claus was atop the biggest fire truck and would pass all of the eager children, bundled tight like we were, waiting for a glimpse of the big guy before we were hurried off to nestle in our beds.  There were no visions of sugar plums, only the wonder of how he fit his ever-growing frame down our very thin stove-pipe. I pondered that thought until the weight of my eyelids became too troublesome and drifted into sleep with that unanswered query still nagging my brain.

Santa on a fire truck

As the years passed we began to give back.  We would faithfully wait at the end of our driveway with a case of beer for the jolly man and the rest of the fire department.  I mean, he had to have been freezing up there and what better way to keep him jolly than with some beer?  I’ll never forget the eve of one particular Christmas when Santa told us that he didn’t drink beer, but instead enjoyed a Rye and Coke.  I guess everyone has a Christmas wish and the following year we granted his with a tall glass of whiskey and carbonated syrup.  My gifts were fabulous that year!!

We almost missed him one year and I raced to the corner of the next street to catch him on his way back.  I stood in anticipation, forever in the shadow of the child I once was and with the smile of the child I hope to always be. Santa waved and wished me a Merry Christmas and I walked back home with a smile that went from one ear to the other.

Every Christmas morning we were allowed to open our stockings and then we were forced to stare longingly at the big presents under the tree while we choked down some breakfast.  That tradition should have been abolished but still remains intact. Paper flew, boxes were cast aside and we became buried in a pile of pure love.  Thanks to my mom, inevitably one or more of the presents would still have a price tag on them and that became a much-anticipated tradition as well.  My brother followed up spectacularly a few years ago by not only leaving the price tag on a gift for my sister-in-law but the price tag was hanging outside of the gift box and not wrapped up inside.

My mother was the David Copperfield of making presents disappear. She loved to start her shopping in June and would hide the packages where we would never find them.  She mastered her craft so well over the years that we would receive some of our Christmas presents in March when they magically appeared months after the festivities had ended.  There was always a competition between my brother and I to see who would open the last present on Christmas Day.  We would skilfully hide a gift or two and casually pull them out an hour or two after the mayhem had ended.  My mom changed the face of that contest and it was anyone’s guess as to whose Christmas present was going to appear at Easter!!

As I sit writing this, the gifts are waiting to be coated in the festive colors of wrapping paper.  The Shrimp Dip has been made by my brother, (hopefully there will be some left for the big day) and he is busy preparing his house for the onslaught of family, food and extreme commotion.  This is the best of Christmas.  It’s not the gifts or the decorations, it’s time spent laughing about the price tags, the long-lost gifts and the early morning phone calls. It’s watching my brother “float” his Christmas dinner in gravy.  It’s Santa Claus on a fire truck and being tricked by my nephews to play a Shepherd in church on past Christmas Eves. It’s a glass of wine with the people closest to me, the people who don’t care that I have to unbutton my pants after eating too much turkey or that I may just wear track pants this year.   Christmas is about presence and not presents.

To all of you and all of yours – a very Merry Christmas and happy holidays.

Brothers will be brothers, and then they make you cry

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I wrote this post last year about a very emotional moment created by my nephew during our 2014 Christmas festivities.  Well, that emotional little apple did not fall far from the paternal tree.

Last year (2014) was the first Christmas without my mother so it was a very emotional time for all of us.  This past Christmas, I vowed I would get my shit together and celebrate the holiday the way my mom would have wanted us to – with happiness and joy and time with family.  And although it was filled with all of those things, my brother threw in a bit of overwhelming sentiment and my tears flowed freely once again on the eve of our Christmas Day celebration.

As I have for every Christmas Eve since 1976, with the exception of the one year I lived in Halifax, I donned my gear and headed out to gather, en masse, at the end of a family driveway to watch Santa Claus go by on the Fire Truck.  The weather was comparatively balmy and Santa was much more jovial than he was two years ago when he was braving the minus 30 C temperatures.  After the truck had disappeared, we went inside and my brother handed me a Christmas gift bag.  I was instructed to wait until I got home to open it and my first question was “do I require Kleenex”.   That question was remarkably redundant.

When I got home, I carefully opened the box and found myself holding what looked like a jewelry box with the words “Dear Daughter” embossed on top.  I thought about what a lovely gesture it was and then I lifted the lid and realized it was a music box.  Somewhat reluctantly, I turned the dial and the song, unrecognizable at first, began to play.

As soon as the familiar strain was recalled by my memory, the first tear slid slowly down my cheek.  It was immediately followed by a torrent of emotion and I was in a full-blown ‘ugly cry’.  The song was Edelweiss.  It was a song I had known since I was a child.  And it was a song that my mother and I would sing together as we continued our holiday ritual by watching “The Sound of Music” together every Christmas Eve.

I couldn’t bring myself to watch it in 2014, but this past year I vowed I would, and I did.  And each time Edelweiss played in the movie, I found myself lost in a sea of tears once again, but they were happy tears.

My brother not only picked the perfect gift but he held onto that gift for a year because he knew I wouldn’t have been ready to receive it a year earlier.  I have remembered a lot of gifts I received during the holidays but this gift, this truly touching gift, is the one I will always cherish the most.  Not only did it come from the heart of someone I love and will fiercely defend, it represents the heart of the person who created us both.   I cannot think of a better gift.

 

A big ol’ bowl of Christmas

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There are many Christmas traditions I miss – those familiar happenings that only my dad could have created.  He was the biggest kid when it came to Christmas.  He would bravely face the busiest malls leading up to the holidays and no expense was spared. Our tree overflowed with gifts,  the food and drink were abundant and the festivities began bright and early each year with a barrage of Beach Boys music at 6:00 am on that merry morning.  And in the subsequent years, long after I had moved out of the house, that music still sounded when he called me at that same hour to make sure I was up and getting ready to head over.  (side note:  I took a break after writing this paragraph to surf Facebook and one of the videos I turned on was Beach Boys music – got the message loud and clear Dad!)

Our Christmas dinners were much-anticipated.  The turkey was always perfect, the mashed potatoes and gravy were unrivaled and nobody made stuffing like my mom.  We were always thankful for copious amount of food because that meant turkey sandwiches, Turkey Tetrazzini and, of course, my dad’s famous Turkey soup.

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It took me years to figure out why his soup was so good.  I’ve known lots of homes that had the stock simmering and the soup ready the next day but none of those creations even held a candle to my dad’s soup.  It wasn’t until I paid faithful attention that I realized his closely guarded secret when it came to his ingredients.

Each holiday celebration when we have a turkey, I happily pack up the leftovers to recreate dad’s soup and I am confident that my dad would be proud of the results.  When all is said and done, our turkey soup tastes just like Christmas dinner in a bowl.  It’s thick and it has all the components of a full turkey dinner.

I no longer call it Turkey Soup.  It is called Christmas soup, and for good reason.  It takes all the elements of our celebration from the carefully cooked bird, to all of the tasty side dishes, to the laughter at my nephew pointing out that his Under Armor Boxers were on backwards, and simmers all of that magic together in a pot.  It is a soupcon of memories, a fragrant blend of cherished moments, tears and laughter that make up our holiday season.

This years’ Christmas soup is simmering on the stove as I type this blog entry and I’m sure my dad would be happy that his post-festivity creation lives on in the kitchen of our past, present and future holiday celebrations.