This is our first Christmas Day of this new life of ours. It was a good Christmas Day. It felt like our old Christmas Days. Christmas Day is unique unto itself and today it transcended grief, loss and worry that it would not be as good because of the loss.
We learned that loss can be part of a good Christmas. We celebrated new life and we remembered old things brought forward. It would have been easy to have Christmas overtaken by grief. Many families struggle at Christmas each year not knowing how to fold into their collective life of shared sorrow, loss or histories of hurt and violence. These things go on throughout the year but they seem to become very active at Christmas. People can pin their hopes on the perfect Christmas, the perfect Christmas that cannot fix everything that has been broken for a year or a lifetime.
Christmas is a marker, it is a marker of a year. In many ways, it is a more powerful marker for the year lived than New Year’s Eve. Somehow Christmas is the marker of the close of the year and New Year’s is the marker for the start of the new year.
Christmas is a time of taking stock. It is a time that it is all too easy to remember the slights, the harsh words, the unintentional wounds and the burdens of the year. Perhaps it is the tradition of giving gifts that accentuates these painful interchanges. How do you give a gift to someone who had brought you distress or even harm? How do you deal with finding the perfect gift only to re-realize that that person is now dead? How do you give a gift to someone that does not want a gift from you? These are not problems that can be solved by Christmas. Christmas can bring to light these sorrows and sometimes the light brought into the world in the form of the Christ Child can illuminate a new and different path.
Today as we relaxed into our potentially distressful Christmas, we ate. Today was about food. It was about preparing it, about eating it, about putting the left overs away and washing pots and pans. It was about being together and bringing to the table the bounty we have been given this year. Everyone got involved in all aspects, including the dishes.
Our traditional Christmas morning breakfast is our annual bow to a totally sugar and meat laden meal. There was salty cured ham and spicy sausage. The ham was locally made using a slow cure method that takes almost a year. The sausage was from Herman, a pig that lived on my sister’s farm. Herman made great sausage. We had eggs fresh from the farm’s hen-house. There was Christmas Stollen and cinnamon sweet rolls and fresh orange juice.
The afternoon cooking yielded the traditional Christmas turkey and dressing, fresh mashed potatoes, green beans with new potatoes and freshly made cranberry sauce. We had baked Brussels sprouts. Brussels sprouts are traditional at British holiday meals. In 2008 we spent Christmas at the Iona Abby in Scotland. At that festive Christmas dinner for the 80 people living there for the week, there were many sprouts. In retrospect there must have been enough sprouts for every man, woman and child to have had at least a dozen. I must have eaten the servings of a dozen people. Since then, Brussels Sprouts are part of my Christmas food. Eveyone in the family was tolerant and there were only a few jokes about likely post-dinner gas. No one said I could not have them. Everyone bravely tried one or two or even three. They were cooked badly. I messed up the sauce so it had large lumps of cooked flour and milk. I said it was Brussels sprouts with built-in noodles. Most allowed as how they could see why someone (not themselves) might have a taste for them.
The gifts were prepared as carefully as the food. Each person was considered and then gifts were sought. Gifts ranged from IOUs for manicures done by the gift giver to dog bones. There was a wide variety of “just what I wanted gifts.” I got a little kit with clippers, tweezers, emery boards and toe separates for a pedicure. All of them were stripped which made the gift more fun. We got two bags of cornmeal ground just down the road from my sister. We gave my niece a vintage tea set to go with her collection of tea cups. It had no makers marks on it but it had a beautiful gold painted spout and handle on the pot. Each cup had a gold finished handle. We were very happy to have found the set in a dusty collectables shop. In that same store I found for my spouse an overshot coverlet like the one we had that burned. While at least 100 years old, it is not as old but it is in better condition than our old one was. It is different enough from the one we had to be a different textile but is close enough that it continues the ingathering of our things.
Each of the dogs, from the ancient beagle to the 6 week old puppy, as well as the cat, sported red bows around their necks. The puppy chewed on our dog Sophie’s heels all day. Sophie took it very well, as she did when the puppy decided that chewing her tail was a way to warm her up to let him join her for a nap. My sister’s dignified giant hound dipped in and out of the frolicking dogs depending on his level of tolerance for the shenanigans of the younger dogs.
All together there are 8 cousin dogs. They range from 10 to 100 pounds. All but two were rescue dogs with issues. When our dog Sophie, also a rescue, joins the crowd things can get a bit wild since she is not here often. There are a lot of dog toes clicking back and forth. The halls of the house become like a subway station at rush hour with traffic jams of dogs going in various directions all somehow ending up at the same place at the same time. Mealtime is a cacophony of high, low and middle yips, yawls, barks and loud barks (that would be ours, Sophie, the loud mouth).
I had the idea of getting the 8 cousin dogs together for a Christmas photo. Several people muttered, “Good luck with that.” I smiled to myself thinking we could pull it off. It seemed important. We know that the ancient beagle will likely not make it another Christmas. The new puppy will be a grown dog by Christmas next year. With two photographers and three sets of hands of encouragement, we were able to get the dogs and the cat in pairs or threes and once in fours but never all at the same time. We kept missing the puppy and found him sound asleep way back in he branches of the Christmas tree. It was a fun time trying to arrange dogs of all ages, types and styles under the Christmas tree looking pretty while two of the grown dogs were on the outs over a bit of turkey had turned with noses in the air while the cat stalked off stage left and the puppy waddled off stage right.
It was a good day living well with loss and new beginnings. It was a good day of thinking of others and the things that brought them joy. it was good to break bread together at two, not just one special meal. It was a good end of the day when we headed off to bed. As any of the dogs can tell you, it is good to sleep the peaceful sleep that comes from a loved, full tummy.
Elaine Whitman said:
“Herman made great sausage”… as fine an epitaph as I have ever heard. May we all be remembered with such fondness.