This week, I have become overwhelmed with emotions of various kinds for various reasons. (More to come later.) At the beginning of a work meeting yesterday, the director of the meeting had us all stand up, introduce ourselves, and share with the group some of our favorite family holiday traditions. This really got me thinking, and I soon realized that my family had way too many traditions to sum up in just a minute or two. It also made me realize that most of our traditions were started by my father, who is no longer with us. The holidays are always a little tough for me and my family. Ever since Dad passed away, it hasn't quite seemed the same or complete. I think what makes it hard is all of the little things that Dad did around the holidays that no one can ever replicate. I'll give you some examples.
Dad used to wake up at 4 or 4:30am on Thanksgiving morning to start smoking our turkey for our big feast. (We have always smoked turkeys in an outdoor smoker grill rather than cook them in the oven ... a tradition of my father's.) Now, either one of my brothers-in-law Levi or Stan or my husband Robert will wake up early to do so. It's awesome of them to carry on this tradition for us ladies, however it just never seems quite the same. What an amazing father.
Christmas was always a trip at our house ... Mom, even after we were married, insists on Christmas Eve night that we all unwrap one special gift, which is always a pair of Christmas PJ's. (Now that we're all three married, our husbands get to join in on the fun, enjoying a new pair of Reindeer boxers or Jingle Bell pajama pants each year.) Too cute, Mom, too cute. Also, no matter how many times she swears that "it's going to be different this year," we typically end up helping Mom wrap gifts at the last minute on Christmas Eve night. (Sorry, Mom ... had to mention it ... just laugh, it's funny!)
On at least one 1980's Christmas Eve that I can remember, my sisters and I, while trying to stay up late for Santa, heard the sound of jingle bells outside our house. We quickly ran to the window to find Santa, dressed in his red and white from head to toe, standing in our very own front yard! We quickly ran to our beds and acted like we were sleeping, in great fear that Santa would skip our house if we were still awake. It would be years until this great phenomenon would be explained to us by our parents ... that Dad had "hired" one of our old swim coaches to dress up like Santa and show up in our front yard that night. What an amazing father.
I'll never forget how Dad used to make us watch "It's a Wonderful Life" and "The Christmas Story" or (when we got older) "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" as a family every Christmas Eve. More specifically, I'll never forget how my father, who rarely cried, would tear up at the end of "It's a Wonderful Life" every year, and I'll never forget how that made me feel. Amazing.
As little girls, my sisters and I would always leave cookies and milk out for Santa on Christmas Eve, as well as a note explaining to him in detail how good we'd been all year. In the morning, we'd always find a half-full glass of milk, cookie crumbles, and a note written back to us (oddly in handwriting that closely resembled our father's) telling us what good little girls we'd been that year, and we'd squeal with joy. Again, what an amazing father.
Christmas morning would begin with Mom and Dad making us wait very impatiently at the top of the stairs so they could take cute photos of us in our Christmas "jammies" before coming down. This always seemed to take FOREVER! Then, we'd come downstairs to find that Mom and Santa had gone WAY overboard again that year, much to my father's (and his checkbook's) dismay. ;) We'd eat breakfast casserole and plucking cake (to those of you scratching your heads, it's like what some call "monkey bread," and it's delicious!) and drink orange juice. (We still eat the same things, but now we substitute the OJ with mimosas!)
After playing with all the gifts Santa set out for us, we'd hand out wrapped gifts to one another. I always loved playing the role of gift distributer. (I guess I always liked giving better than receiving ... something I just know my sweet little Jack will understand full well soon enough.) Just as we thought all the presents were done, my Dad would squint his eyes and say, "Now, I think I see a little something over there, don't you?" and he'd point at a little box hidden in the Christmas tree or in the beautiful wreath my mom always places over her cozy fireplace. In those special places, we'd find beautiful gifts that even my mom did not know he had bought for us ... an amethist ring or a nice watch, for example. He'd always have a nice new piece of jewelry hidden for my mom as well. I remember thinking how sweet and thoughtful it was that no matter how much he griped about how much money we spent, he would always go out on his own and buy each of us something really nice. What an amazing father.
Sharing these moments brings back so many emotions ... joy, laughter, sadness, grief. Everyday I wish that my Dad could be here to make new memories with us, especially now that we all have children of our own. Since my sisters started having children, the pain has eased a little bit ... there is something about seeing children on Christmas day that just warms the soul no matter how you are feeling. I look forward to extending my old family traditions to my new one, in addition to creating new traditions of our own. I hope that this Christmas I feel the spirit even more, as I watch my little Jack "open" presents and the joy on his face as he receives and plays with his new toys (although I'm sure he'll be more enthralled by the crinkle of the wrapping paper!). And, I just know that I will watch Robert watching Jack and think, "What an amazing father." This season as I miss my Dad, I will be grateful for a new man in my life ... my little Jack whose smiles and giggles are truly magical. And all the while, I'll know that my father is there with us, shining through from deep within Jack's big sparkling blue eyes and smiling over us.