As a small child, there was not always perfect structure in my life; however Christmas was mostly routine. Christmas Eve was a time for my mother’s family to gather and celebrate; Christmas morning was a time for our nuclear family to open presents; and occasionally Christmas Day was a time to visit my dad’s brothers. Over the years, that structure has not remained. Perhaps the transformation is natural and required, but sometimes it seems odd.
My mother’s parents were kind and generous (and strong and serious) and really brought us together to celebrate. Even as our numbers expanded, we would still head to one house or another, dine together and open some presents before rushing home to get in bed before midnight – for Santa would not come to children who stayed up past his delivery time. Before my grandfather passed away – about 30 years ago – we peaked around 17 descendants and sometimes got out of town cousins to boost our numbers a bit higher. Although, my grandmother left us about 24 years ago, and our families have continued to grow with children’s spouses and children’s children; the strength of my grandparents’ tradition continued.
Christmas morning at home lasted for awhile as the six of us, with few interruptions, for many years. We are now looking at about 16 descendents just in my parents’ tree. Also, children’s spouses (and one grandchild’s spouse) have their family responsibilities pulling family members hither and thither.
Christmas Day visits to my father’s relations was never a solid tradition, but was usually amusing. One family often gathered to open their presents in the evening, so we would arrive to watch them open presents. As a young (and greedy?) child, I sometimes didn’t understand why I wasn’t opening with them. Their families have also expanded to larger proportions than our own.
Since I moved to Japan, the family gatherings have not been on any regular schedule. Christmas 2004, I didn’t return to America: my 40th Christmas being my first one away from family. That year, I called around to relatives and found nobody at home; it turned out that they decided to have one party on the evening of the 26th. This year again there was no plan for Christmas Eve, but we managed to corral a number of family members for an impromptu early dinner gathering. Christmas Day we will have another early dinner with another fraction of the family.
Just looking at the sheer numbers, most people would not be surprised that the tradition is fading; however, I can’t help but feel some disappointment at the loss of this consistent past. As I ponder the numerous factors that may have led us to the disjointed present, I also look to the future and realize that bonding myself to my girlfriend and the important work she does, may very well pull me away from spending Christmas with family in America.
Regardless of the inability to get everyone together, I will continue to be glad for the times we can meet, in large groups or small. And, of course, I will find great joy in remembering how a message of hope and peace came to the world on Christmas, so many years ago. Merry Christmas everyone!