One waits and knows they’re coming. The holidays. Thanksgiving and then Christmas.
Hew to the old rituals or devise new ones? Or maybe just ignore the events altogether?
Thanksgiving is an excuse to eat good food and too much of it. Once upon a time, it was the rare moment when my mother, her brothers and their families convened, for many years in their parents’ home, and after they moved to a retirement community, in a rented space at Wellesley College. Dinner became something of a pot-luck, which, if anything, meant the quality of the cuisine got even better. Competition, dontcha know.
The free-range turkey that is our standing order at Rumbleway Farm was headed my way in any case. So I inquired of my Tattooed Boy and Miss Megan what they might like to do and we decided on Thanksgiving dinner here with Mom, Aunt, and Brother joining us. Mom’s bringing green-bean casserole and sweet potatoes.
And a good thing too, that there will be more than three of us supping on that bird. The smallest one Robin could find for me—I am on the 10 to 14 pound list—was 16.32 pounds. This babe could have been the subject of Scrooge’s exchange with the boy in the street:
“Hallo, my fine fellow!”
“Hallo!” returned the boy.
“Do you know the Poulterer’s, in the next street but one, at the corner?” Scrooge inquired.
“I should hope I did,” replied the lad.
“An intelligent boy!” said Scrooge. “A remarkable boy! Do you know whether they’ve sold the prize Turkey that was hanging up there?—Not the little prize Turkey: the big one?”
“What, the one as big as me?” returned the boy.
“What a delightful boy!” said Scrooge. “It’s a pleasure to talk to him. Yes, my buck!”
“It’s hanging there now,” replied the boy.
“Is it?” said Scrooge. “Go and buy it.”
So just how big do y’suppose the “big turkeys” were this year?
There are Christmas rules. I would disallow any acknowledgement of the Christmas season prior to December first: no music, no lights and lawn ornaments, absolutely no Christmas trees.
I would focus gift-giving on young children and curtail extravagance across the board. I would suggest that people bake more goodies, revive the tradition of caroling in their neighborhoods, and attend festive performances. Watching one’s favorite Christmas-themed movies is entirely all right.
Reading Clement Moore’s “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” for the assembled crew, while not obligatory, is strongly recommended.
My Christmas dinner has to take place on Christmas Eve and my Tattooed Boy has already confirmed that he has the time off from work. (Some jobs interfere with family celebrations; one absolutely makes allowances for this because, well, people gotta work.)
There is no set menu for Christmas dinner, although I could always count on a standing rib roast and flaming plum pudding with hard sauce and the home of my maternal grandparents. These days, however, I only require a glass of chilled bubbly beforehand and peppermint-stick ice cream for dessert.
At the conclusion of the meal, each person at the table pulls a ribbon to see what Mrs. Santa has left for them in the sleigh. Mrs. Santa is quite insistent that the gifts be trinkets, mere tokens, the source of hilarity rather than oohs and aahs.
The supreme joy of the Christmas season is—or at least was—the giving and receiving of Christmas cards.
My mother frequently hand-made our cards, a project that usually involved forced labor from her children. At least her daughters. The cards we received were pinned to a great red-flannel banner for all to read and enjoy. Her parents tucked their postal largess between the books in Pop’s library. I’ve shared mine in a variety of ways over the years, but now there are so few that I leave them in a festive green basket on a table.
Since the mid-nineteen-eighties, I have produced a “Christmas letter,” one of those missives that most people at least claim to hate. But when one relocates regularly and one’s friends live across the nation—indeed, across the Pond—penning a personal, chatty message to each is simply not do-able.
Since about 1990, I have depended on Dan to edit and proofread that holiday greeting. His reputation was at stake, too.
Crafting the Christmas Letter
After one or two abortive attempts long ago to write in the first person plural, I abandoned the “we” for the “me.” Well, the “I.” It became my story and my voice but when a rough draft had taken shape, it went to Dan for review. Meanwhile, I revised and revised some more. And revised again.
At some point I’d say, “Okay, the letter is pretty well done, everything from here on in is just proof-reading.” Dan regarded that as his cue to make substantive changes. Major alterations involving lots of words.
He was always right, though. And his alterations set off a new flurry of edits before the final proofreading. Neither of us could tolerate the idea we were sending out a letter with errors of any kind in it.
The 2023 Edition
How I miss that process. How I miss the confidence that the letter that went out would be as near perfect as possible. Would this one, moreover, with loss as its central theme, be welcomed, rejected or simply ignored? How utterly insecure I feel as I look at the current, umpteenth draft.
How sad I am that only my signature will be at the bottom.