Since Tatjana and Aaron are not coming home this year (when your kids grow up you not only have to share them with the ex, you have to share them with their boyfriend’s family too – of course the upside is you get two kids to love and I will have them both next year), I’ve been reflecting on how different Christmas feels at the various stages of life, and what triggers the Christmas spirit within each year.
My love of Christmas started with the childhood ones spent with my mother’s family in Kansas City. I always felt loved and adored by my grandparents and Auntie Vera. I spent a lot of hours in the kitchen sitting on the counter licking spoons as Vera would cook and bake for the festive season. The whole house brimming with the smell of pine needles and the tantalizing aromas of her loving labor.
After Christmas Eve dinner, Grandpa would load us into his massive car, and we would drive by all the beautifully lit up houses in the neighborhood on our way to the Plaza, one of the original outdoor shopping centers in the country. My active imagination inevitably sprung to life envisioning Santa flying high above on his way to my grandparents house while looking at that magnificent display of Spanish architecture intricately lined in lights to accentuate every detail. It was breathtaking!
Once we arrived back home, Auntie Vera and I would carefully lay out carrots for the reindeer and cookies with milky Scotch for Santa (my grandpa had an ulcer and claimed the milk lined his tummy so the Scotch didn’t burn) before bed. I’d lay awake so excited but worried Santa might know how naughty I’d been that year, and hoping he’d still leave gifts for me anyhow. Vera would tell me to go to sleep or he might skip our house, so I would eventually drift off.
I’d spring out of bed as soon as the sun rose to check if Santa had indeed visited? I think I was more excited about finding the half eaten carrots, empty glass, and the few crumbs left on the plate that held Santa’s cookies than I was about the presents left under the tree, although that didn’t stop me from waking everyone, so we could get on with the delightful business of opening pressies while Auntie Vera made us buttermilk pancakes and waffles and bacon for breakfast.
I don’t think I took much notice of the holidays as a teen, other than thoroughly enjoying the school break, and getting up to plenty of mischief, but I’ll never forget my first Christmas with Nick. Buying our first Christmas tree and starting our collection of ornaments. Sylvia did the whole traditional roast turkey dinner complete with crunchy roast potatoes, and much to my horror – masses of boiled fresh vegetables heaped onto the plate. I didn’t grow up eating vegetables – I detested them, but I also didn’t want to insult my future mother-in-law, so I gulped them down swimming in gravy. Today I can’t live without my fresh vegetables, and I think of that first English Christmas and Sylvia every time I use the gorgeous Le Creuset Dutch ovens she gave me all those years ago.
To me, the very best Christmases are all about the excitement of recreating those magical memories for your own little tyke. Experiencing the wonder all over again through their eyes. Christmas dinner eventually reverted to celebrating with Sylvia and Roger at our house in London. My favorite Christmas memory of all time being the year we gave Tatjana her cocker spaniel, Blanche. Lady and the Tramp was Tatjana’s favorite film, and I’ll never forget the sheer delight and joy on her little face as she opened the hat box (with air vents) Nick and I had snuck off to wrap Blanche up in moments before.
Then there was the first Christmas without my daughter to contend with. I decided I could be miserable missing her, or I could give myself permission to do something I’d always wanted to do. I signed up for a cruise down the Nile sponsored by the British Museum, and it was just what the doctor ordered – it kept my brain busy enough to keep from missing Tatjana too much, while making new holiday traditions.
Some of my more favorite recent Christmases have been spent with my parents at the beach in Balboa. The older I get, the more I treasure time spent with my parents, even if it’s not the traditional Bing Cosby White Christmas. It has been cozy and fun nonetheless with boat parades, s’mores, and fireworks. Alas, they are coming out to California later this year, so I admit, I began to feel a little more Grinch like this year.
Then the oddest thing happened. My friend Monique persuaded me to accompany her to a couple Christmas parties (where I didn’t expect to know another sole). Despite my lack of holiday enthusiasm, I went. The moment I heard the first note of the carolers greeting us outside the first party, my holiday apathy instantly disappeared and my Christmas spirit soared!
I think it’s important to acknowledge the happy memories, and perhaps feel a little sad for those who are no longer with us, but joy is entirely what we make it. It may come effortlessly at various times in life, we may need to make a little extra effort to create our own at times, or maybe it’s just in learning to appreciate the little things around us we might otherwise take for granted. So, I want to wish a Merry Christmas to all!
Auntie Vera’s Buttermilk Pancakes & Waffles
Auntie Vera’s Buttermilk pancakes and waffles have been a Christmas morning tradition in my family ever since I can remember. I’ve since added red velvet pancakes and waffles to the holiday repertoire if you prefer, but nothing beats Auntie Vera’s recipe for me.
PS. Just in case you are wondering how I managed to get the lion imprint on the pancakes above – I used Nordic Ware’s Zoo Friends Pancake Pan.
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