Flickr 316682138 - Crunchy Christmas Memories

I’ve written my syndicated column for ten years now–that’s ten years of Christmas columns, and at 3 on average per year, that’s a lot of Christmas. I thought I’d rerun some of my favourites from years back, because I really think the older ones are the best ones! Here’s another one from 2003.

I have the Griswolds for in-laws.

If you have not seen National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, you may be in the dark. But trust me, their house is not. If we start to experience brownouts, they’re the ones responsible. They’ve got Mrs. Santa, Frosty, the Baby Jesus, the wise men, lights, stars, and, of course, Santa and all his reindeer on the roof.

My kids love Grandma and Grandpa’s house. It just wouldn’t be Christmas without Frosty gazing into Baby Jesus’ manger. It’s part of our Christmas tradition, and traditions are important. Some people get all mushy about traditions, but I don’t. I like them because most traditions are either hilarious, like my in-laws’ abuse of the Hydro company, or accidental, like my Christmas memories.

An only child, I loved Christmas because it brought family. I could hardly contain myself waiting for my cousins to arrive. Yet while we always had a wonderful Christmas morning, Christmas dinners were more subdued. My grandparents were both a little senile, so regular conversation didn’t work very well. Instead, my grandfather tended to spend Christmas dinner reciting an episode of Matlock, which he thought was actually a documentary. So we children ate silently while we learned how Matlock pulled yet another trick out of his hat.

One year my mother inadvertently began another Christmas tradition. She had just purchased our first microwave, and decided to inaugurate it by cooking the potatoes. But as you know, microwaves don’t cook evenly. My cousin Danielle and I were the first to discover this. She bit into a potato, and I heard a distinctive CRUNCH. We glanced around, but everyone else was enjoying their spuds trouble free. I don’t think they even heard her. But I, sitting right next to her, managed to pull the only other semi-cooked potato out of the bowl. There we sat, CRUNCH, CRUNCH, while my grandfather arrived at the point where the bad guy was led off to jail. Today Christmas isn’t Christmas without crunchy potatoes.

I think it’s these shared memories, no matter how silly, that make holidays special. You’re together with relatives that you don’t see often, and something unexpected is bound to happen, even if it’s just having to sit through a too-detailed description of someone’s recent problems with regularity, if you know what I mean. That memory is enough to provide fits of giggles for at least ten years’ worth of holidays.
The sacred traditions are just as important, giving us a chance to focus again on what is really important. I find the candlelit Christmas services, the baby Jesus birthday cake, or just talking about both the blessings and heartaches of the past year tremendously comforting. These aren’t necessarily big things, but the repetition, and the people, make them precious.

Sometimes we try too hard at Christmas, cleaning so intensely what small, sticky hands will destroy in five minutes flat, and agonizing over the perfect present for soneone who really doesn’t need anything. Maybe Frosty, staring into that manger, has a better perspective. The first Christmas was awfully messy, and it wasn’t a big affair. But it was special because such different people came together joyously to celebrate a momentous birth.

At our Christmas table we’re still celebrating, though many of the faces have changed. I have inherited a large and boisterous family on my husband’s side that doesn’t do Christmas small. The Matlock grandparents have passed away, as has a special uncle just a few years ago. He was one of the best at steering the conversation towards other TV shows, when boredom necessitated it, and he will be sorely missed when others members of my family start to go senile. My son is not here, though my daughters are. Yet all of us can still share the collective family memories as we celebrate together.

This year I’m too busy to try too hard, so I’m going to take my own advice and just enjoy a few quiet minutes to remember a baby, drink lots of hot chocolate, cuddle my kids, and test the potatoes.

I wish you all a very Merry Christmas, too.

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