Usually the one to embrace new traditions when necessary, I had been worried about Christmas this year. Holidays must evolve by necessity, as family members are added through births or marriages, or lost through deaths, divorces, or splits within the family. With a large enough base, the main traditions may carry on, but lose a central family member or two in a small family, and the holidays take on a new slant completely.
After many years of large, boisterous family gatherings with preChristmas golf on a mostly frozen course, (the guys), cooking of various meals, both traditional and off the cuff (mostly the guys), games of bridge (mixed), cookie baking (the kids), occasional raucous song singing and bubbles of laughter that pealed from the second floor, or burbled up through the basement, this year we would be spending Christmas Day on our own: my husband, myself, and our two daughters in their 20’s.
To be fair, we delighted hosting our niece and her family for a latke dinner which my husband, the non-Jew has cooked up for many years. With his late arrival home from work, our daughters picked up the slack. Two days later we trotted to Martha’s Vineyard for a holiday time with my brother-in-law, nephew and his fiancé, a first gathering of its kind in my brother-in-law’s new home. This, too, proved to be a merry evening, continuing to get acquainted with our new niece-to-be. We learned that through a series of unintended circumstances that their wedding date will coincide with our own anniversary.
Christmas eve was most traditional of all, at my college roomies’ house with her family of four and various friends and cousins whom we have now known for twenty plus years. There are often a few extras or some who have jumped ship to be with other relatives, and who can expect serious flack the next time we see them, if we remember. This traditional Cuban meal, Noche Buena, proved to be particularly filled with jibs and jabs, conversations across tables and wine glasses clinking and filling.
That left Christmas day for the four of us, an unprecedented space which I worried would feel like not enough: not enough meat (three of us are mostly vegetarian), not enough noise, not enough…? What was it I feared?
We had our usual coffee in bed and stocking opening in pairs: my husband and I under our covers, and the girls in their room. My husband and I are up first, and make the coffee.
Downstairs for the rest of the gifts from those further away and for each other, sometimes boxes of events detailing performances or classes we have chosen for each other. Waffles came next, a personal favorite. Just as we were finishing, my daughter’s friend arrived with homemade cinnamon loaf. The Best.
A family gift included a puzzle, and two started on the 1000 piece challenge while others cleared up. It was a perfect hiking day and we leashed up our two grateful hounds for a romp through the field and woods up the road. I love this walk, and all six of us walking together was a particular treat.
More work on the puzzle while I sussed out a Chinese take-out order. First time on Christmas. I was fascinated to see how busy the restaurant was for both seated and pick up orders. I whisked our food away because we had tickets for Knives Out, the star studded Whodunnit which proved the ideal ending to our day.
Somewhere in the middle Gale murmured that it was the best Christmas ever. That’s when I fully relaxed into the day, enjoying the slow pace, the time together and lovely variety of ways to be together. I know it is not likely to be this configuration for very long, and I will welcome the new iterations of Christmas Day, whether we’re hosting or traveling. But for now, I want to hold this year close, appreciate what this day brought, its simplicity and the assurance that no matter the changes, there will be enough love to create new possibilities and greet the future.