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Archive for Sunday, December 12, 2004

Traditions make Christmas special for families

December 12, 2004

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This year's Christmas season got off to an unusual start because husband Ray and I actually selected a tree without getting into a fight. Our speedy agreement on a 10-foot white pine -- too tall for me, too short for Ray -- even surprised our friend Bob, who is advertising his "8th 'last' year" of selling Christmas trees at his farm south of town. Of all the traditions Ray and I have established, our annual "Fight before Christmas" over the tree has been the most enduring.

When we married, each of us brought holiday traditions to our new household. Ray contributed two that were quickly discarded: opening presents Christmas Eve (too hard on Santa) and oysters in the stuffing (yuk!). I contributed three or four dozen, including opening presents Christmas morning and sage (a whole lot of it) in the stuffing.

Food, not surprisingly, is the hardest tradition for me to maintain. It took three e-mails and two phone calls before I acquired the recipe for the cranberry salad that Mom (and Grams before her) prepared for every Henry holiday table. At Thanksgiving, even with the help of Ray and my little Oscar chopper, it still didn't turn out like Mom's because the bottom third of the dish contained pure raspberry Jell-O with all the chopped-up cranberries floating in the top two-thirds. While that was fine with Ray, who doesn't like cranberries, it looked funny, which isn't part of the tradition (although I suspect it will be).

One tradition I haven't been successful in introducing is attending Midnight Mass --mainly because we are not Catholic. Our friend Dick, who is, complains that he and fellow Catholics often can't get in to church for Midnight Mass because there are so many Protestants there. I haven't tried to attend, even though I easily could sneak in with son Greg and family, who are such faithful Catholics that grandson Gabe, at the tender age of 18 months, was heard softly chanting along with the priest. His parents were pretty impressed that he'd learned the liturgy at such an early age -- until his voice became loud enough for them to realize that what he was chanting was "Rock chalk, Jayhawk, kay-yoooouuuu."

I have always felt fortunate that, because Ray's parents and mine lived nearby, we were able to celebrate Christmas with both families. Ray, Jr. and Greg always opened their presents at home on Christmas morning, a luxury not enjoyed by families who must travel long distances during the holidays. Except for one Christmas spent in Coyle, Okla., with our maternal grandparents, my three sisters and I never traveled farther than Sabetha for Christmas Day dinner with our paternal grandparents.

That Oklahoma Christmas was memorable for two reasons: the hamburger gross-out and the car wreck. It took 12 hours to drive to Coyle in those pre-turnpike days and we stopped only for gas, multiple restroom breaks and lunch, which we planned to eat on the road. Dad went into a diner to buy hamburgers while mom, my sisters and I sat in the car with Ranger, our black cocker spaniel.

Through one diner window, we could see Dad waiting at the counter; through another window, we could see what he couldn't: the none-too-sanitary cook frying hamburgers. She scratched her armpits and nether regions and used her forefinger to drill her nose, all while preparing our lunch. When Dad returned with the sack of hamburgers and Mom told him what we had witnessed, Dad tossed the burgers in the trash. That was fine with us because nausea had effectively eliminated hunger.

We drove home in an ice storm, and the Buick, sans chains, didn't make a curve and skidded down an embankment into a telephone pole. Ranger and I bumped heads, which so traumatized him that he bolted across the highway as soon as the door opened. Dad chased him while Mom stood near the open door. She unthinkingly placed her fingers where the door hinged, the wind blew it shut and she was trapped. Hearing her cries, Dad ran back across the road to help, slid on his backside down the embankment and disappeared under the car. Fortunately, Mom's fingers were not broken, just sore and swollen. A wrecker towed our car to a garage, where it was repaired sufficiently to limp home. That trip was a holiday experience we chose not to make a family tradition.

Whether Ray and I can establish a tradition of not fighting about which Christmas tree to cut remains to be seen, but we hope your holiday traditions -- whatever they are -- make this Christmas your merriest ever!

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