Jason Davis: Enjoy all those family traditions while they last

Dec. 22, 2013 @ 10:31 PM

With Christmas just days away, I felt compelled to write this sentence to any readers under 20 years old: Be patient with those family Christmas traditions; they won’t last forever.

I’m reminded of that every December, as I grow older and my thoughts hearken back to the decades gone by and those once mundane Christmas customs that have fallen by the wayside.

Following the death of my father four years ago, Christmas changed forever for me. Celebrating with him had remained the last vestige of my childhood holidays.

My mother died when I was just a child, but Christmases at her parents’ home continued for me until college. My dad would dutifully load my older sister and I into the car and take us. Even when my father later remarried, we’d all still go to Nana and Pa’s.

Those visits with the grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins are now among my most-prized memories.

There was the camaraderie. The late nights of board games and TV Christmas specials. The food. And of course, the annual traditions.

My cousins and I didn’t often see each other, but when we did it was all laughs and fun. Despite the wide range of ages among us, we all got along splendidly, and always managed to keep a game going at the dining room table. From Scattergories to Monopoly to Trivial Pursuit or Scrabble, there was always someone locked in a battle of wits. Even the grown-ups would join in.

We’d also tell ghost stories and share family lore.

Chief among those was the tale of the time my older cousin, Leigh Ann, and my sister, Lori, had stayed up too late on Christmas Eve and seen Santa Claus (my uncle, it turned out) through the window. Terrified they’d jinxed their shot at St. Nick’s surprises, they’d run to bed, crying all the way.

The annual smorgasbord was also stuff of legend.

A mishmash potluck of homemade casseroles, seven-layer salads and brick-like fruitcakes, it was the equivalent of a desolate wasteland to picky kid like me. I was probably the only person in the state that could have starved to death with a spread like that.

I remember discovering my Aunt Nancy’s crock-pot of Hillshire Farms Lit’l Smokies one year. It was like I’d found a a life-preserver in a sea of mayonnaise-based concoctions that everyone seemed to like except me.

I foundered on the small, barbecue-sauced frankfurters. It was heaven.

There was also my Aunt Bobbie’s spiced punch. To this day I don’t know what was in that warm nectar, but I assume the main ingredient was sugar. Lots of it. We drank it by the gallon and it kept us bouncing off the walls late into the night.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there were the annual rites we went through as a family each year.

Before the first present was opened, we were each distributed a little paper songbook chock full of Christmas carols. With my grandmother at her wobbly old piano, belting out traditional religious songs announcing Christ’s birth, we kids would power through, waiting for a chance to sing the “fun” songs at the end. Then we’d settle in for a reading of the Christmas story from my grandfather’s well-worn Bible. My grandmother was always adamant that no presents were to be opened before the Gospel reading. Back then it seemed as though time stood still as the unopened packages awaited, mocking us.

Looking back, though, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

While I’m making new traditions with my little family these days, I’ll never forget those Christmases. They were what the season is all about.