If not now, when?

One American woman. Twenty acres and a 1650 farmhouse in Tuscany. Random introspection and hilarity, depending on the day.

16 December 2005

Reverence for the Elves that Went Before Me

I have ALWAYS loved the Christmas season; here in Italy it is no exception. Everyone seems ... nicer, somehow. Despite the chilly (often downright slice-you-in-half cold) weather, people are almost determinedly cheerful. The towns look sparklier with lights on and trees trimmed in front of stores. Coming around what is usually a dark corner, you can now see a house with a few strings of lights out front. People say 'Buon Natale' to strangers and smile. Things smell all nice and pine-y and cinnamon-y. I do hate crowds at the stores, but I love picking out thoughtful gifts for people.

Religious or not, there's just something magical about everyone feeling all simultaneously festive for the month of December. ('The Season' starts MUCH later than in the US. Lights sort of appeared starting after the 8th of December (Immaculate Conception.) - refreshing, actually, to not have been bombarded with it since the end of October.)

I went sort of quiet on you a week ago, as I have been spending most spare minutes getting Christmas preparations done here: Cutting down the cedar tree to trim the mantle with. Spraypainting odds and ends to hang on the tree. Importing stockings. Shopping. Baking. Buying stuffers for aforementioned stockings. Washing all the sheets and towels for guests. Making the list, checking it twice. Figuring out how to make mom's famous potatoes without two of the key ingredients (cheddar cheese and sour cream). Making sure there is enough wine/champagne/liquor stocked to sufficently inebriate our little troupe and whatever army might invade, even in the case of a five day snowstorm. (Truly, while grandma can get run over by a reindeer and Santa could get stuck in the Chimney, there is absolutely nothing conceivably worse than running short of alcohol on Christmas.)

You see, for the first time in my adult life, I am hosting Christmas. (I feel like there should be some sort of definitive musical accompaniment to this announcement).

For more than 30 years now, others -- my parents usually (though on the odd occasion grandparents or inlaws), have 'DONE' Christmas, and I just had to show up.

It is only now, juggling a full time job, a new language, a totally foreign list of stores to rely on, a car with no heat, with pine needle rash up and down my forearms and a whole batch of overcooked toffee in the trash, that I realize that the Elves of my Christmases Past are truly saintly.

And for the most part, those elves were my Mom and Dad. Christmas at our house was always ... perfect. Even the years when there wasn't so much to be cheerful about, Christmas eve and Christmas day itself sparkle, dazzling and sugar-coated, in my memory. DS can confirm, but I don't think I'm deluding myself here... our house was always, without fail, Christmas magic.

The candies and cookies were baked - not just one kind, but five or ten to choose from. I don't ever remember there being a 'meltdown' in the kitchen when a whole batch of something got trashed. Packages were wrapped prettily and sat enticingly under the tree for days before. In later years, each ROOM had a different Christmas tree of some sort, all with different themes. There was almost always on the 23rd a big party with all our friends and neighbors - with everything made by Mom from scratch (not the total-cop-out way that I have hosted my parties in my recent adult years, assigning different dishes to all my friends to bring ...)

For the first 25 years of my life, setting up and lighting the tree was Dad's (totally thankless) job. Usually, there were also cut greens and lights draped from the eaves of the house and lighting the bushes outside. And it was all woven together just 'so' - appearing like the lights had grown from inside the branches; NEVER that the strings had just been thrown on, draping lazily and unbecomingly on the outside. As I wrestled the TWO STRINGS of lights onto the branches of my little Charlie Brown tree last night, cursing as my hands and arms were pricked, I thought of him. There's a whole list of conversations I plan to have with him whenever we meet again, but I'm going to start with "I finally get it -- thanks for always doing the lights."

I remember the years of my childhood when fanciful surprises from Santa appeared; the most memorable an enormous dollhouse that... looking back... the 'Elves' must have spent every night for a month assembling (after working all day, putting dinner on the table and us kids to baths and bed). And then gift wrapping every tiny piece of furniture that went in it. Amazing, really. Looking back, I fervently pray that our glee that morning was sufficient. And if, in the childish freneticness of an overstimulated Christmas morning, it somehow wasn't ... I hope the fact that so many years hence it is still such a warm, vivid memory will compensate.

The last few years, I simply "cruised in"... flying in from wherever (Australia once, the most exotic that I remember), poured myself a glass of wine and enjoyed the glow -- of the tree, the music, the fireplace, the munchies, the company. Inevitably, I would have a bundle of gifts with me, all as-yet-unwrapped ... and The Mom would send me to her impeccably decked out 'Wrapping Station' (how many houses do you know with a WRAPPING STATION?!?!) 5 choices of paper? Check. Cute gift cards? Check. Bags for awkwardly sized gifts? Check. Tape, scissors, assorted ribbons: Check. Check. Check. (My Ex once observed in awe that Christmas wrapping at our house was a competitive sport.)

When I had forgotten something smashing and festive to wear to the party, The Mom would stop her party preparations to find me something in her closet.

Big ole' party on the 23rd. Christmas eve dinner and all the trimmings (complete with clever games and interesting party favors at everyone's place) on the 24th. Homemade breakfast Christmas morning, including Mom's famous sticky buns. Mimosas. Thoughtful gifts all around. Smartly-stuffed Stockings that had miraculously appeared overnight. Some sort of luncheon spread Christmas day.

I know now, many years older and wiser, that 'twas the night before christmas ... not a creature was stirring ...' is all absolute crap. It has to be. Those poor elves are probably still up stuffing, wrapping, or assembling. It is no wonder that my most consistent memories of Christmas afternoon at our house was of Mom and Dad napping.

As I scramble now (T-minus ONE WEEK to arrival!) to prepare to entertain our tiny troupe of four (The Mom, UBlend, and the Rugrat) for MY first hosting (and it will be all of our first Christmas outside of the US), the pressure is on. Because I have a string of more than thirty years' worth of wonderful Christmas memories that it's my turn to pay forward. Because I'm sure I never said 'thank you' enough for how wonderful it always was. Because everytime a bell rings, an angel gets his wings. Because the elves that have gone before me never let me down. And, ooooh boy, do I have a new found respect for them.


Blogger Danza Sorellina said...

Ahhh yes my memories exactly. Your right, we never did thank dad for srtinging all those lights on the house and tree. Remember the tree of lights he ran up the flag pole? I have yet to host Christmas but from hosting a thanksgiving or two, it is quite amazing that the mom and dad did all that they did with out complaint and so wonderfully. Thank you for taking me back to all those wonderful christmases past. I laughed and I cried. I do rememeber those naps on Christmas day and now it seams to all make sense:) I will miss spending the holiday with you this year- some how I know you will do the christmas elfs proud!

2:56 AM  
Blogger The Mom said...

K, you just did...
DS, you continue to surprise me...
Both, I just spent the last few moments laughing, but mostly crying...good, no great, tears. I only did, over the past 30 years, what I loved doing...making the holiday magic..I guess it worked, better than I ever could have imagined.
Thank you both for the best, and only, gift a mother could ever even imagine---you are both the magic in my life and I don't know how I ever deserved the level of gifts I receive from you both on a daily basis.
Merry Christmas with nothing but love to both of you and those who read this blog... cause you're kinda family. (This is lots of smaltz to those who don't know all of us..but at this point I don't care.)Because I get to spend the holiday with both of these remarkable women, (on separate days). I know that I am truly the most blessed woman in the world this year.
Because you read this blog--you are part of the family and I wish you (unknown at the moment) a holiday as wonderful as mine.

4:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow...I'm speechless and yes...wiping tears from my eyes...especially after reading posting from the mom and sister.

my mom too makes 'her famous sticky buns' that we enjoy Christmas morning...actually she just dropped in yesterday at my house and put in freezer...they are one of my favorite traditions at Christmas

you are experiencing special moments and new traditions this year to add to the memory bank of Christmas past, present and future!

'Buon Natale'
virgin blogger :)

12:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What wonderful memories! My fondest wish is that I can create something similar for my little boy - all the magic that Christmas brings. And a mom stretched out on the sofa on Christmas afternoon snoozing after pulling an all-nighter wrapping and stirring and creating. Merry Christmas, Viaggiatore. The card and goofy holiday letter are in route, but probably won't make it until after Christmas. Thinking of you...

6:55 PM  
Anonymous julienini said...

You'll do JUST fine! :) Good luck and enjoy your holidays.

4:25 AM  
Blogger michele said...

Kellee, you not only gave your sister and Mom a great gift with your story but to all us readers as well. A flood of Christmas memories came back to me - just what I needed right about now.

You are so lucky to have each other. And, having experienced just a tiny bit of your Mom a couple of weeks ago, you didn't exaggerate one bit about the awesome dynamo she is.

Have a wonderful holiday - tell your Mom hi for me. Looking forward to seeing you in Louisville in February.

Michele Miller

11:08 PM  
Anonymous Mary Ellen said...

What wonderful memories you have. I only hope that the traditions that my husband and I have created for our children will be as cherished as yours.
I hope your holiday in Italy is full of love and laughter.

12:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't underestimate your ability to create christmas memories - my children will never forget the lovely christmas memory of you pulling a condom down over your head and inflating it with your nose to a porpotion none of us could imagine. I guess you had to be there and why hasn't that picture been seen by all on the internet? Great Blog and great memories. Wishing you and your Mom the greatest Christmas ever, if your Mom has not mentioned it yet my kids (hardly anymore!) are lobbeying for you to come home next year they are missing the party that would normally be taking place tonight!!! Love to you from us and Merry, Meery, Christmas.

11:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kel, I feel in some tiny way that I experienced the holidays right along with you through your memories of the good ol' Hickory house. I can still see the decorations, the perfect Martha Stewart-like decor inside (thanks to the Mom's ever magical touches, which by the way, are YEAR ROUND, not just at Christmas, and continued to remain so post-Hickory...) and can even picture YOUR OLD BEDROOM! How scary is that? Actually it's not scary at all, it's part of wonderful memories I have growing up with you: How your parents filled in for mine now and then. How DS was "the sister I never had." The homemade wooden swingset in the backyard, care of Jim. Stepping on smushy apples in the grass. "Out in the open" in the basement (and for those of you who don't get it, and for those like me who finally realize that it may take on a completely different connotation now than when two 10 year-old girls invented it, it's just another great memory). And who could forget "since 6 o'clock last night?" Now that we're on the edge of New Years' Eve, I hope you and the troupe had a wonderful, delicious and joyous holiday, full of even more wonderful memories for you to look back on. Miss and love ya,


9:41 PM  

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