I was brushing my teeth this morning when Santa Claus is Coming to Town came on.
“He sees you when you’re sleeping
He knows when you’re awake
He knows if you’ve been bad or good
So, be good for goodness sake!”
I told Nick, “This is a pretty creepy song.” I mean, are there children out there terrified that some old fat man in a red suit is watching them sleep? I don’t think that’s the kind of Christmas I want to have.”
Fortunately, it wasn’t. No weird bearded men were stalking me, at least none that I know of.
It was my first Christmas in about 17 years. I may be off by a year or two, but I think my last Christmas at my grandparents’ house was during my senior year of college. For my own children’s first Christmas, I wanted to incorporate some of my family’s traditions and start some new ones.
My grandparents always have a huge Christmas Eve with dinner and presents. It has to be big because they have 9 children, 19 grandchildren, and apologies to all of my first cousins, but I cannot even keep track of all of your children to count great-grandchildren. I think it’s 9. Two sets of twins – one a set of grandchildren and one a set of great-grandchildren were born this year. So, yeah, I am 38 years older than my youngest first cousins. Even if some of us are absent, it’s still a lot of people.
There is always plenty of food. My grandparents are Polish Catholic, so there is mushroom soup with kluski, pierogi, plecionka (bread), Polish sausage, and more. We break oplatki – Christmas wafers – and wish each other a good year.
And, Santa comes. Somehow, Santa always knows to show up at their house before bedtime. The adults warn everyone of Santa’s impending arrival, and the older cousins shuttle the smaller kids into the bedroom to sing Christmas carols. Some brave uncle hops on the roof to stomp around, and then everyone comes out of the bedroom to find the pile of presents under the tree.
Most of the grandchildren are now grown, and some of us have moved away, and my grandparents are now in a new house. So, I don’t exactly know what happened last night at their house – maybe it was quite different – but my childhood memories are clear. I never had a White Christmas owing to the fact that they live in Phoenix, but I did used to stand out in the front yard looking up at the sky trying to spot Rudolph’s red nose.
Last night, we had mushroom soup and pierogi at our house. I remember hours spent making homemade pierogi, and at some point, my grandparents started buying frozen pierogi. I bought frozen pierogi, but I made the soup. Mushrooms, onion, beef and mushroom stock, sour cream, vinegar, and kluski.
Before we ate, we broke oplatki. I started, and I told Hannah she was my favorite daughter in the world. She said, “But, I’m your only daughter!” True, haha. When I got to Nick, I tried to speak, but I couldn’t. I knew I was going to cry. I think I managed to whisper “Merry Christmas” and “I love you.” Hannah said, “Are you crying, mom?” One day she will understand.
I told the kids about the food we were going to eat, and I don’t know what to say other than it was surreal. Until this year, they’d never heard Christmas carols, they’d never watched Rudolph or Frosty or A Christmas Story. I was telling them about some of my favorite childhood memories, and they’d never heard those before either. It’s taken a lot to get here, but this is where I’m supposed to be.
Nick and Hannah loved the mushroom soup, and Ari wouldn’t touch it. Big shock. I have to say that it tasted exactly as I remember it. We all decided that we liked the potato and cheddar pierogi better than the potato and onion. My favorites used to be the mushroom and sauerkraut, so maybe I will have to make my own next year in order to have a selection.
I didn’t want to do presents on Christmas Eve. I wanted us to have our own tradition and do presents on Christmas morning, so that’s what we did. The presents were under the “big” tree, but we had four mini colored trees around the house. I shopped for presents for the kids in a very laid back sort of way over the course of the last month. Last night, they brought them inside from the garage and put them under the tree. It took two tries. On the first attempt, they got into a fight about who got to carry which present and were sent to their rooms. On the second try, I micromanaged a bit, and they were finally able to pile presents in front of the tree without bloodshed.
They got a bunch of books because after all, they are my children. Hannah got the Artemis Fowl series, and Ari got Little House on the Prarie, plus they each had a stack of used books from McKay’s in Nashville. They got sewing kits and fabric and buttons. The only thing Hannah actually asked for was a stuffed animal, so they each got some sort of stuffed animal pillow thing, which was apparently awesome. And, I got them some cool locally made bath salts from the Laughing Mermaid because anything I can do to encourage Ari to bathe daily is good. The stockings, which were push-pinned to the wall, had candy, peppermint-stick-flavored Chapstick, and random fun stuff (like candy cane shaped pens and more loops for their rainbow looms) from a convenience store because that’s how I roll. After they inhaled their candy, we headed over to the Haywood Street Congregation downtown.
Every Wednesday, Haywood Street Congregation has a Welcome Table. Unlike a soup kitchen, the point is to serve and be served – to share a meal together as humans and friends. The tables have flowers and fruit bowls, and food is served family style. They use real plates and silverware, and cloth napkins. This is meant to counter the common idea that those who are homeless deserve only handouts and leftovers. Everyone takes turns eating and serving others.
When we were walking to the front door, Hannah said, “I’ve never been inside a church before.” I had already talked to them about what to expect and what to say. I told them that the point was to have a good meal and help others have the same. I told them that some people might want to give them a hug and that some people might cry. I was glad that I’d prepared them a little bit, as one of the first men who came over to Nick to talk started crying because his wife died earlier this year.
We ate during the first seating and then served during the second. The kids didn’t care about eating, but they absolutely loved serving. The biggest problem was that because they are so short, it was hard for them to push their way through the crowd to get back and forth from the kitchen to the table we were assigned. But, they were so happy going around asking if anyone needed anything and then helping to carry dirty dishes and set the table for the third seating. Santa came, and we all got gift bags and homemade scarves. It was a busy, happy morning, and we made plans to come help with cleaning and meal preparation next Tuesday.
We came home, and I put on my homemade scarf and the hat that was in my gift bag. I’m thankful for Christmas, for the opportunity to make this holiday mine, and for the chance to share it with others.
Merry Christmas to all.