For my whole life, family has been scattered across the map. As a navy brat we moved. We moved a lot. Dad was stationed in Washington, South Carolina, Hawaii, Scotland, Florida, Bermuda, and Rhode Island, but we are from Oregon. So, we learned to celebrate holidays far from home. The last time we celebrated Christmas all together, my baby boy was only five months old (now he’s 25). We learned growing up that family and holidays are forever. Whether together or apart, we are family and holidays can be celebrated from a distance.
Sometimes when we were kids, we were able to all be together at home (in Oregon). There Christmas smelled like homemade fudge, maple bars, and fried dough. We celebrated in the city and far out in the country. Frost hung thick on the trees at Grandma Derrick’s house, nestled at the bottom of a steep hill, right next to the river. We explored outdoors, and played in the attic bedroom as family gathered and overfilled the little house. At Grandma Malone’s house on 17th street and later at the house on Midway, we gathered to laugh and fight, to celebrate and love. We (I) snuck into the basement to taste Grandpa’s fudge. Cousin Linda helped us make macrame plant hangers, cold water candles, and string art. Grandpa paid us to wrap his presents. The adults were loud and so were we. They put us to bed in the guest room and we woke up on the floor under the dining room table.
Most years we weren’t able to make it home. Instead we celebrated where we were. In Hawaii, we turned the air-conditioning down to make it cold and wrapped up in blankets to drink hot chocolate and watch Frosty. In Scotland we opened our gifts to find pictures from the JC Penny catalog taped to books because our presents didn’t come in on time. We decorated cookies, cakes, and Christmas trees. We celebrated with dad, and with out him. Some years, dad’s ship would be deployed over the holidays leaving the three of us to find ways to make the holiday’s special. My mom, never one to back down from a challenge, would still pull out all the stops for that perfect holiday dinner. Dad never failed to call and send us all into tears before it could be enjoyed.
When I left home, I decided my family would be a “normal” family with holiday traditions and celebrations like you see on TV. That didn’t really work out for me. With a husband who was a firefighter/EMT and family across the country, our holidays were a lot like the ones I remember from my childhood. We tried to cover the distances, we created memories, but in my heart I felt like we were missing out. It took years to realize, this was the good stuff. That we were whole and the holidays are what we make them. Now we have our own stories. The ones we tell and retell when we gather. We talk about the holiday’s we celebrated with the Lyons. They remember my crazy collection of trees. We talk about the Christmas eve’s we celebrations with friends and the way we sing after the tree is lit. We talk about the Thanksgivings gathered with lots of friends, and those spent with just the five of us. We remember when we decided that we didn’t want turkey again and made steak and fries our Christmas meal. We talk about how we have to have 4 different pies because we can’t all agree on one.
I wish when I was a young mom fretting over the holidays, someone would have encouraged me to let them be. To let them unfold as holidays do. Now, I think of holidays as a collection of jewels, flawed and different, but wholly ours. There are those that sparkle with joy and laughter and others that are marred by loss, but together they are a stunning collection and they are precious. As we move toward this holiday season, it’s time to open up the box of celebrations past and tell and retell the stories that make a family. Celebrate these and hold them close, for this is the stuff of life.