Mt. Rainier and Lenticular Clouds - Dec. 2008 copyright: JMM

December 24, 2012

Christmas Eve

It's not quite December 24th as I am drafting this post.  I've been thinking about and reflecting on the holiday season of years past.  I think in a lot of ways I always loved Christmas Eve more because of the build up of excitement to the following day, which in a lot of cases is kind of a let down after all the gifts are open and there are no more surprises.  This is especially true of my adult years, whereas when I was a kid, I still had the rest of the day and evening to look forward to at my Aunt & Uncle's house with my cousins who were visiting from Long Island through New Years.  That meant a week of playing in the woods, ice skating & sledding if we had snow, spewing hot chocolate out of our mouths and noses from laughter.  Going to the Mall to spend our gift money.  Stuffing ourselves with cookies and treats & playing charades or with our new toys & games.  Staying up on New Years Eve to tape our fave songs from the annual WRKO 100 Top Songs of [Year], going downstairs around 11:30 to watch Dick Clark's New Years Rockin' Eve & watch the ball drop in NYC at Midnight.  Those were fun days when I was a kid in the 70s.  But I digress....

There was one Christmas Eve when we deviated from the usual visiting, and went to see my mom's best friend who was very, very sick.  She passed away in 1972, so this would have to have been December 24, 1971.  She had two daughters a few years older than me, and we spent lots of time over there visiting before Flo got sick.  I didn't understand what was wrong with her at all, of course...I now know it was breast cancer.  She was in a nursing home 'near the train bridge in Buzzards Bay'.  I never forgot that night, because Flo's daughter Linda was there and she and I were exploring the nursing home, playing hide & seek, and it's layout made a huge impression on me because it was a really nice place (my grandmother was there after she had her strokes in the late 80s). I remember Linda & I were watching TV in the main lounge area too, where there was also a lit Christmas tree.  In an odd twist of fate, I happen to live very close to this place.  

Christmas Eve meant baking sugar cookies with Diane at my parents' house.  5:00 pm Mass at the Catholic Church and that was the only day when we got to sit upstairs in the choir due to how crowded it was.  Then after Mass it was off to visit the McArdles and the Morrows, and home for heaping platefuls of my dad's delicious linguine with shrimp marinara sauce.  I could hardly sleep that night.  As I got older, I found myself pulling all nighters (which meant I was a cranky little thing by 10 a.m. the following day), trying to listen for Santa, then sneaking downstairs in the pitch dark, avoiding every squeaky stair and floor board with the precision of a Ninja, then flicking the livingroom light on & off real quick to see if there were presents yet and there always were.  Heart pounding, I'd carefully creep back upstairs to my room, unable to sleep from excitement.  I actually used to sleep on top of my made bed to save time having to make it in the morning.

Those traditions continued pretty much the same way through high school and even when I was home from college, although the amount and kinds of cookies baked now varied, and I usually worked at the Dan'l Webster Inn during college breaks to make some extra cash for the following semester.  One year, I was on my way home from Channel 56 in the wee small hours of 12/24/87.  It was just past midnight and as I got off the Sagamore Bridge onto the Mid Cape Highway, traffic was backed up because of an accident up ahead.  I decided to take the chance and cross the grassy median, getting into westbound lanes (wide open b/c of the late hour) and get off at the 1st exit before the Bridge and take Rte 6A.  As I came down through Sandwich, the fire trucks and ambulance were just leaving.  I went home to my rented studio apartment near Sandy Neck and thought nothing of it.  I went to work again on my regular 3 pm -11 pm shift on the 24th.  Except that night I was going straight to mom and dad's to spend the night.  I got to their house around 12:15 and dad was keeping the linguine and shrimp sauce warmed for me.  But their affect was all wrong when I got to the house.  They were smiling but their eyes looked weird, and I said, 'Why are you looking at me like that? What's wrong? What's going on?'....'Honey, you better sit down.  That accident on the Mid Cape last night?  Liz's brother Jon was in it.  He didn't make it....We're so, so sorry.'  My best friend's brother killed on Christmas Eve.  He was only a year behind us in school.  How could that be?  I was devastated.  I think of Jon frequently, but constantly at this time of year, every year.  

My mom has one of these's really old because I remember it from when I was little. If you shook it there was a bell or chime thing inside it that kind of plunked more than jingled. But it was never quite this naughty...

The first few years of my marriage to Brian in San Francisco, Christmas was the run up to the annual Grateful Dead shows at the Oakland Coliseum.  We had tickets for the NYE shows of 1989, 90 and their last in 91. He & I developed a ton of traditions for Christmas Eve and kept them up for a long time, till we started to plunge into a great abyss that started slowly in 2006 and ended 5 years later when I couldn't take it anymore and left.  These traditions included dinner out at a restaurant called Tom's Place in our SF neighbourhood, to a British Pub in San Rafael when we moved to Marin County, and then Chinese food up in Washington.  We always watched certain shows that day and night.  'Last Train Across Canada', Truman Capote's 'A Christmas Memory', 'A Child's Christmas in Wales' and finally after dinner, the musical 'Scrooge'.  One of us would go in another room while the other stuffed that person's stocking and put gifts out, then covered w/ a towel.  Then the other would do the same thing.  Like I said, that whole ritual pretty much tapered off and stopped over the years as he became unable to cope with reality and I was too depressed to even try and keep up the holiday cheer.  The baking and decorating stopped too.

This month has been one of some emotional turmoil in the days leading up to Christmas Eve.  In a good way though.  Came out of left field.  Stressful at first and a little perplexing, but overall it's going to lead to way more positive things in our lives.  And being married (in our hearts) to a truck driver could mean that he is on the road/coming home on Christmas Eve sometimes.  I've made my peace with it.  He got his schedule for the next few days and he will be going out the evening of the 25th.  But he will be home for Christmas Eve,  and almost all of Christmas Day, which will be nice. 

Mostly this time of year seems to have a tinge sadness around it, the older I get.  I can't help but remember those old days when I was a kid, everyone was still alive, it was exciting and it seemed like nonstop parties and socializing. Looking back on 'the Brian years' is extremely weird for me right now. It'd be strange enough if he was still alive, but he's not and that's what's so hard to wrap my brain around.  So this year I think I'll just bake a couple cranberry breads for my mom and to bring to my sister in law's house, and enjoy every precious minute with my honey.

I wish you all a peaceful & quiet Christmas.


  1. Anonymous9:16 AM

    Christmas decorations have come and gone down the years, but I have an ancient bell on the tree every year that I used to rush down and ring every Christmas when I was little, probably to celebrate Santa had 'been' :0)

    Merry Christmas to you and yours dear.

  2. I too have great childhood Christmas memories. In the morning we had stockings on the bedhead with fruit and nuts, and our presents in a pillowcase at the foot. After Christmas dinner we would go next door (or in early teens, after our old house was torn down and we were rehoused) to the downstairs flat where my aunt and uncle lived. There we had more presents under their big tree. Finally the rest of the aunts, uncles and cousins would arrive for the evening. We'd play cards, have a sing-song (rather a "knees-up") and generally pig ourselves out. Then we did it all again on Boxing Day!

  3. Hey you,

    Great post. I know what you mean about everybody being alive in years past at the holiday time and how it's not so much that way anymore... I am having the same melancholy.

    Hope your holiday is special in a new way now that you have found your true love and are home again. There is power in that.
    Love you,

  4. Merry Christmas JoJO
    During the holiday season when I was a child, my whole family would be home. My older siblings would come home from where ever they were living. There would be packages that filled half the living room floor. Not that we each got so many presents, but we just had a huge family.
    When the parents died, that all went away. We all do our own thing at Christmas. I miss those times.

  5. Christmas Past

    Christmas Present

    Christmas Future

    We all have our fond memories, our not-so-great holidays and hopes / wishes for future Christmases.

    This year ours will be a very quiet day; we are celebrating with the family on the 26th!

    Merry Christmas JoJo!

  6. I used to go to Midnight Mass with mother every year. It was always kind of a fiasco because sometimes the car alarm would go off in the middle of service. Oy.

  7. Like you it was always Christmas eve that was most special time when I was growing up with lots of old traditions attached. It's a time that now leaves me feeling a bit sad too now that my parents and all the older relatives have passed and the younger ones far away. I'm so glad you were able to be able to spend Christmas eve and Christmas day with your special man. Cheers to the new year!

  8. I hear ya, JoJo, as I get older and family and relatives are long gone I think back to how it used to be. We were allowed to open one gift on Christmas Eve and had to wait in the morning for the rest. I still have me and my brothers' stockings...mine are hotpants and my brothers had longjohns with suspenders...mine does too. Made of 'furry' red material trimmed in white. So cute. We would always get a Lifesavers book and maybe some ribbon candy and chocolate. Always didn't like leaving everything to go visit the relatives but as I look back have fond memories of all of it. Now you have a special man in your life to start new memories. I'm so happy for you and Russell. Bless you both.