I don’t like to pick favorites when it comes to Holidays. They all have their merits and I wouldn’t want any to get its feelings hurt. Thanksgiving, with the no gifts required and all that pie? Perfect! This year was our best yet. My birthday? It’s all about me and what’s not to like? My husband’s and kids’ birthdays? I sure am glad they were born. I’d celebrate that every day! Even St. Patrick’s Day with all that green food and drink! No. I wouldn’t want to pick. I love them all.
If I had to, though, I would choose my adopted Holiday of Christmas Eve Dinner with my in-laws as my most beloved and special holiday. Here’s why:
These are not stuffed mushrooms. Well, they are. And so good that I ate almost ½ a tray by myself. But they are way more than bread, onions, mushrooms, garlic and spices. For, you see, I helped make them with my sister-in-law for our Christmas Eve feast just as she has been making them to bring to Christmas Eve for over a decade.
She’s been making them so long that I don’t really remember Christmas Eve without them. Just as my husband doesn’t remember Christmas Eve without at least seven fishes and dozens of family members of every age and sometimes friends coming together for the day. Like so many other families, my husband’s big Italian family holds Christmas Eve as the most hallowed of days. It is not just about the birth of Christ, although we are primarily a Catholic family. And it is not because of the presents even if the presents are pretty fun. And it is not really about seeing each other. Most of us see each other pretty regularly. It’s not even about food, although, admittedly, we do all love to eat.
OK. It is about all those things. But it is so much more than that. I have learned since joining my husband’s family over 15 years ago, and especially since having my three children, that it is really about the extra special effort that every single member of the family makes every single year to prioritize that time together and to hold it sacred above all else. No matter what.
They make that day and that time mean something special because of all of the effort that goes into it. It’s Nana and Grandpop, who start shopping for stocking stuffers for all 13 grandchildren in October, review and prepare menus in November, and set tables weeks ahead of time (OK, Mom, if you’re reading this, I know it is probably only a day or two ahead of time ;)). It’s the aunts, who cull Christmas lists to get their “something special” for each child, one of whom manages to find matching pajamas in every size from 24-months up to men’s medium. It’s the kids, who give up time on their “idevices” and really do try to look and behave their best for their elders, even if it means wearing a skirt instead of jeans. It’s the fact that every person there is there on purpose to be together and they prepare for it and look forward to it all the year through.
Sometimes I worry that Christmas is too commercialized and that as a parent I am a puppet of the major kids companies targeting my children. And sometimes I fret that I spoil my kids when we perpetuate the myth of Santa Claus even a little bit (we don’t really do it full tilt). And then I think of those crab cakes. And talking to my mother-in-law mid-December as she and my father-in-law are making pecan rolls, debating whether this year they are, in fact, the absolute best they ever made.
I remember how it was at Christmas Eve dinner when my father-in-law shared the news with the whole clan that my husband and I were expecting our first baby and I can still hear the raucous cheers that followed. I laugh at my son counting the kids and the stockings to see if they really match up as my daughter writes out each name in a neat list. And I reminisce about how, when I first joined this merriment, the oldest of the grandchildren in this family were still in diapers. Those babies are now in college. And last year, as I watched my oldest niece stuffing mushrooms with my own daughter, it finally dawned on me.
Whether you believe in Jesus Christ or Santa Claus or someone else or nothing, it is up to each of us to make the Meaning in our lives. And like every other good thing I am trying to teach my children, it takes work. It takes effort. We can do it alone but it is easier if you have other people to help you. If you are lucky, like me, you find people who work as hard (or harder) than you to do it. And if you are really, really, lucky, like me, those people will also happen to make a wicked stuffed mushroom.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you and Yours. May you make lots of Meaning this year.
What is your very favorite holiday? Recount the specific memory or memories that have made that holiday special to you.
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