I wish I were higher minded or had more spiritual beliefs and ideals, but the truth is when it comes to holidays, I'm all about the people and the food. That's it. People and food, and some years, food wins.
I grew up in a home vaguely Christian, and because we were Christian, we believed in Santa Claus and Christmas trees. Yes, St. Nicholas can be traced to some kind of Catholic type of sainthood, but the tree comes from those smart pagan folk who knew winter months were depressing, and what did you need to cheer yourself up? A tree. A decorated tree.
So after the food fest of Thanksgiving, which is always about people and food, we'd slide into the month of December, starting with anointing the tree with the popcorn strands we'd stick together with needle and thread. Sure we had the requisite nativity scene and the advent calendar, but I only cared about the calendar because behind the little windows were chocolates. The nativity scene was fun because when my parents weren't watching, my sister Sarah and I would play "dolls" with it.
"Hey, Mary," we'd have Joseph say. "This barn stinks."
"It sure does, Joseph," we'd have Mary retort. "Let's get out of here, but first let me have this baby."
But it was the food preparation that was always the most fun, that and the growing pile of presents under the dead tree stuck in the tin tree holder. Early in the month, we would start making cookies. Sugar cookies with frosting and sprinkles. This was an entire days' worth of work, and we were forbidden to lick our fingers without getting up and washing them. But how not to lick off the sugary frosting? The temptation was--well, I succumbed, and into the kitchen I went. I'd sit back down, start to frost again, and then, I'd have to lick again.
My mother would freeze them, and these cookies would come out for dessert on Christmas Eve, after we finished our cracked crab dinner, the most special treat of the year. By that time, my sisters and I were so strung out, they'd give us the one glass of wine we'd get the entire year, and my sisters would sleep like the dead. I, on the other had, was not felled by wine, and would wait in bed, wide awake, for Santa. I couldn't hand it, this waiting for gifts, this waiting for something to happen, something to happen to me. All year long, it seemed as though I were waiting, and then, finally, on Christmas Eve, I was rewarded.
My parents--not wealthy by any means--always did an amazing job at Christmas. We had piles of toys and full to the brim stockings. We loved olives (I learned to love them while taking sips from my parents' martinis). We'd find bottles of stuffed olives and Mandarin oranges in our stockings. Then we'd wait until my parents made it out of bed and then we'd eat, again, before opening up the gifts.
By the afternoon--wired and tired--we'd sit in the pile of our booty and smile.
Now, I wait for children to come home to visit and to see friends at parties. I look forward to planning the meals, deciding what to have when. I enjoy picking out the right gift, making fatal mistakes at times, but I give it my best. I don't play dolls with the nativity scene any more, but I don't have a nativity scene any more. It's not about Christ or any religious observation.
It's about being somewhere warm with the people I love and eating a really good meal, a few of them. Outside later, the air is crisp and clean and the new year is inches away. Something good is happening to me right in that very instant, and it's longer than the time it takes to open presents. It's all the time, but then, I can feel it, all of it.
Causes Jessica Inclán Supports
Women for Women International Goodwill Industries Lindsey Wildlife Museum Freecycle.org