Christmas memories old and new

My favorite part about Christmas when I was a kid was being able to stay up late. On Christmas Eve our traditions have included celebrating my Grandma Pa’s birthday with a dinner, cake and ice cream. We usually alternated between my grandparent’s house and the neighbor’s house because our lifelong neighbor JR also celebrated a Christmas Eve birthday. After cake and ice cream we drove down country roads to my other grandparent’s home to celebrate with my Dad’s side of the family, often getting home well after midnight. Mom tucked us in while dad insisted on going to the barn to feed the animals by himself because he said the animals talk on Christmas Eve. The holidays always have me reminiscing about annual traditions and funny memories.

In third grade my mom gave me a fruitcake she baked to take to school for my teacher Mrs. Zadow. I left it in my backpack. Fruitcake is so gross. I liked Mrs. Zadow and couldn’t imagine that she would like fruitcake either. During the class Christmas celebration, I was the kid that just sat at my desk watching all the other kids joyfully give the teacher presents like homemade cards, craft projects, and candy. Everyone got a hug. Maybe I should have given the fruitcake a chance. I left it in my backpack for about a month. By the time I took it out it was flat as a pancake.

When I was a young adult, my brother and I opened the same gift on Christmas morning. We both got each other the Office Space movie on DVD. Had Christmas presents been something to discuss ahead of time we could have pooled our money, bought one DVD to share and spent the remaining cash on snacks.

Never being very good around the kitchen, I tried to be a contributing member of family gatherings and took a dish to pass for Christmas Eve dinner when I was about 25. I brought hard boiled eggs with snowmen drawn on the shells with a Sharpie marker. It was familiar to everyone, because I brought the same thing to Thanksgiving dinner, only with turkey drawings instead of snowmen. Nobody asked me to bring a dish to pass for a while after that.

One year we didn’t have a Christmas tree. Not for any reason other than it was my husband’s year to pick it out, and he just never got around to it. I didn’t feel like it was my responsibility to remind him, so I didn’t. As a result, there was a significant lack of cheer in the house that December. At the time, I was pregnant so I wasn’t in the caring-about-decorations spirit. We haven’t missed a tree since then.

I am blessed to be able to have happy, pleasant, and funny Christmas memories. I know this is not the case for everyone. When I think back on all the years of holiday traditions the things that stand out the most always relate to the time spent with people I care about. Hunting for a Christmas tree with Grandpa Alvin. Hiding under the dining room table so Uncle Kevin wouldn’t steal my socks. Sneaking more of Aunt Susan’s toffee fudge when nobody is looking. Playing NERTZ! with Aunt Lois. Playing Pictionary with Aunt Eva, Uncle Jim, Aunt Ruthie and Uncle Mike. And, watching as many Christmas-related movies as possible on the few days off during the year when I make a point not to still keep up on work. Not all memories are filled with joy. There are a few less-than-pleasant holiday experiences that I choose not to focus on. Fortunately, the good outweigh the bad.

I’ve learned over the years that there are some traditions that you don’t need to keep if they are unhappy or destructive. You have the choice to make new traditions at any time. Whether it’s with family you acquire at birth, or family you choose, there is always room for more. I have always felt loved and accepted with my family but I think it’s important to remember that this is not the case for everyone. If there is room at your table, invite people you know may otherwise be alone on the holidays. If there is room in your budget, adopt a family and help them feel cared for. If there is room in your schedule, volunteer to help a local charity. If there is room in your heart, help someone create positive memories.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Mary Beth Stutzman’s Inspiring A-Town runs bi-weekly on Tuesdays. Follow Mary Beth on Twitter @mbstutz.