Thursday, December 4, 2008

Home for the Holidays

(Photo curtsey of Koerten Galery)

Home for the holidays … we hear this saying every year, what does it actually mean?

Home is the place where your loved ones reside. I don’t think it is a place at all, but a feeling deep down in your heart. To me, home for the holidays is anywhere my family can join together, be it my home, my oldest two daughters’ home, or my parent’s or mother-in-law’s home.

Christmas has always been my favorite time of year, but the past three years have been a challenge; they do not held the same joy since my sister is gone. The last year I truly enjoyed Christmas was 2004 – the last Christmas we got to spend with my baby sister, Amy.

Christmas 2004 was a merry time, full of love and excitement. There were family reunions and guarded surprises, all leading up to Christmas Eve, when we all gathered in my parent’s home to celebrate the season.

My Mom still has the Christmas stockings that Brent, Amy and I had as children. They always hang on the brick hearth, along with additions for Amber, Marie, Ashley, Christine and Ethan – the five grandchildren. During the Christmas season of 2004, Mom made each of us a new Christmas stocking. Amy had found a picture of a stocking made from old quilts and she convinced Mom to make one for each of us. Amy had an old quilt and she drew the pattern and helped Mom cut out the pattern pieces.

Mom worked hard for several weeks to make sure all of us had stockings. When she had finished them, she presented us our stockings on Christmas Eve. This was the best gift I received that year. I loved the way the stockings looked and I was thrilled because it was something my Mom had made for us. She even embroidered our names and the year on the back of each stocking. For the past three years, I have used these stockings in place of our old ones. We don’t have a hearth, so we hang our stockings from stocking holders on the buffet in the living room.

One Christmas staple has had many incarnations over the years - the Christmas lights we put on our trees. When I was little, the only Christmas lights we had were the large, screw-in type in various multi-colors. Today Christmas lights are tiny and twinkling and they come in some really strange colors. Although we have many strands of these new fangled lights, we also have several strands of the older types, just because I love the way they look. Those large bulbs always take me back to the Christmases of my childhood.

Another lighting tradition our family has is the two strands of “bubble lights” that we lovingly display each year – my family didn’t have any of these lights for our tree, but my husband’s family did, so we merge the two traditions.

When my siblings and I were little, we used to drive our parents crazy because we were always changing the colors of the Christmas lights. The tree was always in a corner or in front of the picture window, and we each had our own side of the tree. Brent’s and mine were usually the left or right side and Amy’s was in the middle. I was always moving the green lights to my side of the tree (green was my favorite color). My brother would move the red bulbs and my sister’s spot was full of blue bulbs. None of us liked the yellow lights, so we tried to move them to the back of the tree or near the bottom.

There are two food items my Mom cooks every year and they are the two things we can’t do without when it comes to Christmas – her chocolate fantasy fudge and her homemade dressing. Although Christine and my hubby love peanut butter fudge the best, I have always been a chocoholic, so Mom’s fudge hits the spot. I’ve never been able to make fudge as good has hers. And when it comes to dressing for the turkey, nothing compares to Mom’s! She freezes left-over biscuits and cornbread all year and then mixes them with onions, turkey broth and sage to make the most heavenly dressing I’ve ever tasted. We wait all year for this one food, so she always makes a huge amount for everyone to have left-overs.

As far as Christmas trees are concerned, we’ve ran the gamete of styles and sizes. Although cedar trees are still my favorite because of their wonderful smell, our huge collection of Hallmark ornaments prohibits us from using them because the branches just aren’t strong enough. Since my hubby and I have been married, we’ve always had an artificial tree; sometimes we’ve had three or four at a time. Last year we added a new tree to our collection and it is the tree we are using this year.

I have fond memories of the old silver tinsel trees from my childhood – you remember the type, silver branches with a color wheel instead of lights. Well, for years we have hunted yard sales and flea markets, not to mention family attics, but we could never find one of those silver trees; they had all been thrown away or sold in yard sales. Last year, my hubby found a brand new silver tree, and although it is not exactly like the tinsel trees of my past, it is close enough that I love it. And this tree is flame-retardant, so we can put on as many lights as we want.

Christmas trees, Christmas stockings, Christmas food – is this what it means to be home for the holidays? Although these are but some of the symbols of the season, symbols do not a family make. Being with family, sharing love and excitement – that’s what is means to be home for the holidays. Everything else is just icing on the cake!