The Christmas season is here. The next four weeks will be a series of parties, dinners and exchanging gifts between and loved ones.
To me it's the finale to the fall season. All the colors of the season are heightened with Christmas lights and brightly colored coats and sweaters. Cookies, cocoa and coffee become the snacks of the day. In the evening we sit by a fire giving off its warmth and drink brandy and eggnog.
Then there is the music of Christmas. Almost all of the songs, such as "I'll Be Home for Christmas" and "White Christmas," come from the tunes written and performed during the war years of the 1940s.
This Christmas will mark my 68th Christmas. I don't remember my first, which was in 1942. The first Christmas I do remember I was 4 or 5, and it was at my grandmother's house on 16th Street in Washington.
My mother was one of nine children and if you add the children from each of them, well there were 20 children in attendance. It was like two parties going on at the same time. One for the adults and one for the kids.
Over the years, the kids grew up and had kids of there own. We graduated from the kids' party to the teen party to the adult party. All of us in that big house occupied each floor and each room. The adults hung in the kitchen, the teens in the den and the children had the run of the rest of the house except for the living room. Christmas dinner was held in shifts - first the younger ones ate and then the teenagers and at last the adults tried to have a formal Christmas dinner.
Then all of us would move to the living room. The Christmas tree at my grandmother's house stood in a corner. It had decorations that went back to the 1800s. God help anyone who touched that tree. And the gifts lay around the tree and were stacked high. Each of mother's brother and sisters had brought gifts for the other eight members of the family as well as for grandmother and grandfather; these did not include gifts for the children.
Instead of one for all grabbing at gifts, Granddad would pull up a chair and hand out the presents one by one. When all the gifts had been handed out, he would say, "One. Two. Three. Open your gifts."
The ripping began. Wrapping paper flew everywhere and the oohs and ahs and laughter with an occasional "That's what I wanted" echoed throughout the room.
For a while there were just murmurs and we showed each other the gifts we had received. Then there was a moment of silence. Aunt Peggy would sit at the piano and start to play "Silent Night" and we all started to sing along. Granddad would read the Nativity Story from the Bible. Then my grandmother would raise her glass and say, "To all our loved ones who are no longer with us." There would be another moment or two of silence.
Some started for the door to go home and others would help clean up all the torn wrappings. If you stayed the night, the kids slept in the basement the teens had the attic and the rest shared a room or crashed in the den.
On Christmas morning we all went to mass.