by Jennifer Heath
Nothing much was ever consistent with my parents. We were gypsies, migrant workers, so some of the inconsistencies were because our lives were mobile and often fragmented. Some were because…well, my mother was whimsical and frequently mercurial.
Thus, now and again, my parents would decide that on the Twelve Days of Christmas, we’d each give and receive a tiny gift. Where they got this notion, I’ve no idea, but I suspect my mother of romanticizing her drop of Jewish blood (there’s another story for another time!) and trying to integrate Christmas with Hanukkah. Nevermind, it was a lovely periodic ritual. And it meant, of course, that we kept getting gifts from Christmas Day all the way through Epiphany on January 6.
As if Christmas Days were not excessive enough! Sometimes the packages piled almost to the top of the tree. We were loaded with gifts from the U.S. relatives, who pitied us for having to live without American goods. Bless them, they really thought us deprived. The comic books, model airplanes, Matchbox cars, dolls, candies, puzzles, and games spilled onto the floor. This way our aunties and uncles hoped to help us preserve our culture, though we had almost no experience, let alone memories of anything much American ─ and little need for such an embarrassment of riches. Looking back, I find it rather stomach-churning (am I ungrateful? I don’t mean to be).
One year, it actually was stomach churning. An aforementioned auntie had given me a decorating set, consisting of fake gems and a bottle of glue. Much to my mother’s red-hot consternation, I took to pasting this bling on everything I could get my hands on until the stuff ran out. Not long after Christmas, I woke with a horrid tummy ache. My father poked around and realized it was probably appendicitis. I was rushed to the hospital, and when it was removed, we saw, lo, a bright little rhinestone gleaming and glittering in my appendix. We kept it around the house for a while bottled in alcohol, my mother threatening to mail it to the offending auntie, but soon we just tossed the thing.
Nan DeGrove’s advice in her last blog a few days ago is right up my alley. I have come to enjoy quiet Christmases, with family and friends, to relish an annual Solstice supper with dear ones, to turn down most invitations, to eschew the tree, except when the grandkids are here, when all the family is instructed ONLY to give stocking stuffers (of course the grandkids go home to celebrate consumerism, but I’m not there, so though I care, I can ignore it). This year we celebrated Solstice as usual, but Christmas was only Jack and me and flowers: poinsettia, roses, paperwhites…mostly white.
An occasional friend drops in briefly, but most of the time it’s been just the two of us. Jack presented me with a lovely bouquet and I gave him a book about patterns in nature. We had a small supper, read for while in the living room listening to music, and collapsed into bed early.
An absolutely excellent Christmas Eve. This morning, we had breakfast together and went about our own projects. Friends will come for tea in the afternoon.
Now the wind is up and snow is predicted. I beg the ─ white ─ Amaryllis to bloom, but it must be saving itself for New Years.
We wish you the merriest of Christmases, with profoundest hopes that the struggle for beauty, justice, and peace will prevail in the year(s) to come.