Thursday, November 11, 2010


to Annie
from K.K.

It's not the same when I type it out.  If you want the full effect of the memory those words have for me when I think of them, they have to be in Momma's handwriting, scrawled in pencil on a Christmas gift tag, attached to an evidently hurriedly-wrapped present found on my pillow in the morning.

Kris Kringle presents were just one of the traditions Momma kept during Advent.  I recall, over the years, we did many things through the Catholic grade school we all attended.  Mostly it was a Jesse tree, which we'd color and cut and paste and decorate at school the last week of November and bring home to keep track on throughout December. There were also the paper chains--do you remember those? Each day's paper link had something helpful to do on it.  But it was our domestic church traditions that are most important to me.

Like those Kris Kringle presents.  Now, I could be romanticizing my past, but I seem to recall we got the best KK presents on the coldest, windiest days of the year, when we were most reluctant to get out of bed.  One morning (probably during Kindergarten), I remember waking up and, looking around, perceiving that it was not in fact Christmas yet, I immediately pulled the covers over my head to go back to sleep.  [Sometimes, I still wish I could do that.]

But, there were still those presents that Kris Kringle (who wrote just like Momma...) left for us as the anticipation grew. They were always rather small presents, nothing too elaborate.  Sometimes it was just a candy or treat wrapped up for us. On Sundays, there was a family gift--something we could all share and enjoy.  Sometimes it was a box of tasty Christmas chocolates, or delicious cookies.  Sometimes it was a beautiful Christmas book, which we would read as a family later that night.

In the evenings on the four Sundays of Advent, Momma would gather us around the dining room table which was always laid, quite simply, with the advent wreath and candles.  It was a gigantic wreath.  I have faint memories of it going with the (artificial) Christmas tree we had for years, but I can't be sure.  All I remember was that it was pokey and big and very green and huge. And it was the very first Christmas decoration we got out every year.  There was a white, 5-candle holder that fit nicely inside it, holding our purple and pink candles.  Momma always had a white candle for the middle, to light on Christmas eve.

So we would all stand around the table, holding hands, all the lights turned off except the candles.  The first week, Vivian lit the candle. The next week, I got to light two.  Bethany lit three the next week (she got to light the pink candle! Pink because the third Sunday means we're almost there. Christ is almost here!) and Summer lit four the Sunday before Christmas.  On Christmas Eve we'd come home from church and Ray would light all five candles (five, Vivian and I thought, that's a whole lot of candles. I wish I could light that many).

And, holding hands, we would sing. [No, not the song from the Grinch] :)  We sang an ancient hymn, blending our voices in the soft glow of candle light, letting the still, silent darkness wrap our melody round with holy waiting.  O Come, O Come, Emmanuel!  And ransom captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.  

This seems to be the season for remembering traditions.  This is time of year when families gather and spend time together, close inside against the cold.  History emerges from dusty attic boxes; it comes to light at the bottom of a hot cocoa mug.  Tradition and historicity cannot be ignored during the holiday season, as they can much of the rest of the year.  But I say it is a blessing that we cannot hide it.

We can't ignore our past stories. We should seek to understand them and pass them on.  Maybe if they make sense, we'll feel more inclined to hold on to them.  I know I will keep mine close, especially as my family grows, and I have my own little ones to tell stories to.

No comments:

Post a Comment