Every Easter, every family reunion, every Christmas, my Grandmother’s home would be filled with people bustling about, kids running everywhere, and food on the table. My favorite beyond all favorites was her home at Christmas time. Every year, it was the same. On Christmas Day, just after lunch, we’d pack up the car and drive forty-five minutes to Grandmother’s house. Cars would spill out into the street, and we’d hunt for somewhere to park. Walking through the kitchen door, you’d smell Aunt Patti’s brownies and hear coffee percolating. The tree was decorated with its bells and candy canes, its glowing pine cones and ice cycles. The wall by the stairs was covered with her Christmas cards taped to the wallpaper. Not long after everyone had arrived, the handing out of the Christmas presents would take place. One by one, my funny Uncle Rick would pull a present from under the tree and hand it to the lucky person. We’d wait until everyone had his or her gift, and then we’d all open them together.
It’s hard for me to think for long periods of time on what it was like at my Grandmother’s house. I miss it so much. I cannot even begin to tell you all the things her home meant to me. I think the painful tug on my heart and the sting in my eyes happens mostly because of what her home symbolized to my growing mind, to my budding heart.
It was a place of safety. I knew what to expect. I knew how it would feel. There was never a question in my mind of whether I belonged there. That it was a place where I was a part of the family, and I was seen by her. My home was often a chaotic space where I felt mostly invisible, so my grandmother’s home became this tether of stability for my young life.
After presents, our time would be filled with conversations and eating pie. Grandmother always had these weird Christmas movies that she had recorded off the TV, and we’d watch them every year! One was called A Mom for Christmas. It was such a silly movie, but because it was tradition to watch it, we always did.
Before we left, my grandmother would gather everyone around the tree and pull a large stack of envelopes from its branches. She’d hand each one of us a Christmas envelope with a $20 inside. This was probably my favorite part, not because I got twenty dollars but because I knew it brought her so much joy to give to us all at Christmas. She was the hardest working woman I have ever known. She went from being a child living in a home with dirt floors and the wind blowing through the cabin walls, twirling in dresses made from potato sacks to having a home filled with warmth, full closets, family, and logs on the fireplace. I am so proud to be her granddaughter.
Remembering my grandmother and all the wonderful things at Christmas time really has me thinking about family traditions and how important they are. Now that I am a mother and am building my own Christmas traditions, I look back and know that all the small things matter. All the tiny parts that were repeated year after year send a message to those involved. They say, “You matter. You are a part of this. You belong.”
This makes me think of the Lord’s Supper: a repeated tradition in the Church that sends a forever message about the sacrifice and love of Christ. Our Christmas traditions are puny in comparison, but they still have significance. They are like small bricks that, over time, build a wonderous inner cathedral of memories. The traditions are safe places where family can let their walls down and be themselves. They can be loved and cherished in the safety that the consistency brings. They hold the power to tie us together forever, and I am extremely grateful for my grandmother and her tree, for her silly movies, and her wall filled with cards. I miss them now, and I know that in a way they helped shape me. They gave my growing heart something it desperately needed: Tradition. Family. Love.
Featured Image by adrian