Sunday, 12 December 2010

Letting go of Christmas

On Friday morning it finally sunk in that, for work-related reasons, there will be no Christmas for us at all this year.

As hard as I'm trying to ignore this fact, and focus on my professional duties, I have that horrid wrenching feeling, that comes when one is forced in a direction that is clearly not of the Spirit's choosing! Which manifests, first as anger, and then as profound sadness.

I'm reminded of a story that my mother recounted to me when she one day tried to take my older son, Eben - at that time a young toddler - into town in his stroller, and she had taken a different route than I would normally have taken to make that journey from her house. He threw a massive tantrum, and began screaming "Wrong way! Wrong way!".

I was raised in a home where Christmas was a big deal. It was a time of wonderment (is that a real word?) and family tradition.

About 2 weeks prior to Christmas day, my father would take me to buy the tree and then he would lug it home over his shoulder, as we never had a car. I wasn't usually allowed to get involved in decorating it, as he was -still is - very particular about the way he likes things done. I respect that about him. And certainly as far as tree-decorating went, he made it look perfect!

My mother would bake a cake (based on a Dundee cake) a few weeks in advance, and feed it with brandy in the meantime. She could do that without needing to follow a recipe or cooking instructions. She was an amazing cook! My father would line the baking tin for her with brown paper and string. I loved the smell of the paper as it baked. He was also responsible for mixing the ingredients, which, with so much fruits and nuts was very hard going, and also for the iceing and decorating. A hard white iceing over a marzipan base brought into stiff little peaks, inevitabley with a little sledge ornament and some holly. And I remember something odd about that, when they mixed the iceing they added something called "blue bag", a laundry blueing, which made the iceing stay whiter than white. And although I never liked that cake, it was still an important part of Christmas for me.

My mother also baked homemade mince tarts. She made the fruit mincemeat herself, adding real farmhouse "scrumpy" cider (you have to remember, that we are Somerset folk!) that my father would procure from a nearby farm. The house filled with the smell of baking and spices and fresh pine tree and she and I would get a little bit tipsy sipping scrumpy as we baked.

These are just a few of the wonderful memories of this season that I have. Most of which are visual and/or olfactory in their nature. And more than anything, are about that indescribable magical feeling of cold, dark Winter evenings, lights and sparkle, sharing and excitement.

When I moved to Costa Rica, life changed alot! I have never been able to come to terms with the fact that Christmas falls at the beginning of Summer here. Forgive me, but the thought of hanging out on a tropical beach on a stifflingly hot Christmas day, just doesn't do it for me! Then there's the fact that there can be no replication of traditional meals as it is not possible to find any of the ingredients here, and no tree will survive more than 3 days in the house even if watered.

Add to that the impossibility of leaving the Peninsula to shop for Christmas presents for Nilo, who has just turned 8 years old, or , more so, of creating that build of excitement that comes through craft making and preparation together, I realize that, somehow, I have to let go of Christmas altogether this year. I'm not sure how to do that! I wish for the Spirit of Christmas past to manifest itself and lift us off into the "how it used to be". But instead, I am working long hour shifts, with no real breaks, in the blazing sun, full on, until the day itself, and then starting all over again on the 26th!

Friends, please continue to sew holiday cloths... bake as much as you can, go do late night shopping surrounded by pretty lights and pretty window displays... make homemade christmas cards... beautifully wrap presents... relish every sprig and sparkle... enjoy the company of your friends and family... take lots of pictures... and blog about it all!

Snowy egrets roosting in a bare tree, lake edge yesterday evening.


Jacky said...

What wonderful memories of Christmas you have. Coming from Australia I can imagine a cold/white Christmas (something we only see on Christmas cards and hear about from overseas friends).

We still have a very traditional Christmas lunch. Even in the heat I cant help myself, I love it all.

Thanks for sharing your stories/memories with us and I hope that you still have a very special day with your family. I'm sure the Spirit of Christmas's past will be with you on the day (tired as you may be).

Sending you Christmas Cheer,

Jacky xox

Anonymous said...

maybe the worst part about traditions are that they can make us feel so lousy when we're not able to do it, the same way, just right, etc.

when my parents first divorced we went through a few years where in which my mother abandoned holidays
and the period from late november through the first week in january was crushing.

wishing you cheer despite it
or maybe a way to speed time up.

remember there is no correct way in which to honor something
and maybe you can find your own tradition to pass on to your son.

be a new shoot on the tree of tradition.

Suzanna said...

Catherine, it is really good to hear your memories and I can imagine the yearning for all that. I hope you'll write more about it. Lots of things this year have become topsy turvy for me too and I like Serena's thought of being a "new shoot on the tree of tradition". Forging a trail through the wilderness..

jude said...

actually, we don't really celebrate the holiday in a big way, more like a season's celebration than anything else. I think your memories are as fine a holiday as I can imagine!

Gabriela said...

as for me, I am the opposite...I am from uruguay and came to live in the US about 30 yrs ago...I miss the fact tahtw e could have Christmas' eve parties with hundreds of people invited because you could have it outside because the weather is warm....We could stand outside at midnight watching all the fireworks go off without jackets, hats and mittens...
We put fake snow on the trees, and ate 'winterlike' foods like our european ancestors would have....
But anyway, if youw ant I will have your Northern Christmas for you, you have the Southern Christmas for me!Regardless of where we are, the sentiment is theh same...even if we miss all that we know....Have a FELIZ NAVIDAD!!!

neki desu said...

you have lovely memories,cherish them.i had to struggle to build traditions for my husband,so our xmas is our very own.
i'll be thinking of you.

nandas said...

we have let go of christmas this year as well... my son is moving in due to an injury that has kept him unemployed. he is getting better slowly but we all thought it would make more sense to live with us until he can get back on his feet... so we are busy moving rooms and making time for trees and trimmings, baking and gifts. we will go to a friends home that day which will be wonderful but here at home our noses are all to the grindstone.

Deb G said...

I know this feeling... For me it's helped to make my own tradition, something that is just mine and do-able wherever I am and whatever I am doing.

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