Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Ghosts of Christmases Past

Our saddest Christmas was after a trip to Japan.

We escorted my wife’s mother on a multi-stage trip from Ontario to Japan and back to visit our son and his wife, new-born daughter, and many Japanese relatives.  I spent so much time crammed into an airline seat that I didn’t want to ever fly again.  Although Grandma at 92 didn’t have a lot of stamina for long walks, she greatly enjoyed the sites and the people.

Near the end of the trip, she awoke with jaw pain.  Our son took her to a hospital where she was diagnosed with a heart problem, but she was cleared for the return flights to Canada.

After she was home she had more heart problems.  She was hospitalized, had surgery that wasn’t successful, and slowly declined, dying at ten Christmas morning.

Almost all of our other Christmas celebrations have been joyous occasions in many different  settings.

My earliest memories are great dreams looking at toy catalogs, seeing the train layouts in the department stores, and visits to Santa.

About Santa, I was Santa once at Mariner Mall.  Never again.  I never lied so much in my life. “I would like a Britney Spears…”  “I’ll see what we can do about that.”

Several of our Christmases were spent at ski resorts.  Twice with Club Med in Misurina, Italy, once in Kitzbühel, Austria, and once in Big Sky, Montana.

We’ve had many Christmases with a houseful of guests.  It always seemed that everybody was sitting in front of the fireplace, eating sweet rolls, and waiting to open presents.  That is, everybody, except an adult male.  We had to wait for whoever it was that year to get up, shower, and shave before we could proceed.  Was I irritated on the kids’ behalf or my own?

When we lived in Sweden, we picked up two winter solstice traditions: Sankta Lucia and julbord.

We had a Luciafest at work in Stockholm.  One year I was appointed Stjärnpojke (Star boy), the guy with the pointed hat who was an attendant to Sankta Lucia.  After singing a round of Sankta Lucia, we had glögg and princess torta.  Glögg is a potent mixture of wine, vodka, raisins, and spices.  Princess torta is a layer cake with whipped cream and custard between alternating layers and green marzipan covering the top and sides.

Julbord means Christmas table and is a variant of a smörgåsbord.  No, it is not an all you can pile on your plate pig-out.  It is a five course meal where you take certain selections for each course.  You can repeat a course if you like.  And have all the beer and snaps you want. (Snaps is akvavit, vodka, and their cousins.)  We had a julbord for many years, but have given it up as too much fuss.

Another Christmas tradition that has succumbed to “too much fuss” is fruitcake.  I am insulted whenever anyone refers to fruitcake as a doorstop.  People looked forward to the fruitcake I made based on a recipe that my mother had found.  One of the secrets is quality ingredients.  You can find the recipe at “Fruitcake: Doorstop or Holiday Treat”.

We have given up on gift exchange in our family.  We became too predictable: sweatshirts and t-shirts with funny logos or books.  I like each of my sweatshirts but the pile threatens to fall off the shelf each time I pull one out.  Many of the books are interesting, but I think most of us have only dabbled in some of them.  I know I have one by a very famous author sitting on the desk at our cabin that I keep telling myself to read a few more pages of.

For awhile, I printed cards and a letter.  Then I got a new printer that didn’t do the colors well.  Then I felt I was writing the same old, same old newsletter, some of which would be about grandchildren the recipients would never meet.  The good news is that by using different software I can print cards with great color.  Now, I only have to finish this column on the Saturday before Christmas and address those cards.

Church Christmas caroling did give my singing career a boost.  The choir was going to be singing at St. Ann’s Residence in Duluth, and the director invited others to join.  I drove the good singer in our family to the event and joined in the singing.  I stood right behind the director and she invited me into the choir!  I think it was my energy, not my skill.  From there I went from being a timid off-key singer to a singing student to a singer who got invited to do solos to a singer who doesn’t practice much.

I think one of the best things I did for Christmas happened on our first Christmas together.  We were living in Cleveland, Ohio, and I knew there was a policeman on foot patrol at Shaker Square, a five minute drive away.  I took him some cookies and coffee.  He was standing in a doorway and really appreciated it.

However you celebrate this solstice time, may the return of the sun bring you wonder and joy.

Also published in the Reader Weekly, 2014-12-24 at