Memories are the best part of Christmas celebrations. And making those memories are even better. For most of us, Christmas has come and gone. But not for me, it hasn’t. My decorations are still up, along with my tree. My tree is the only one that lights up the neighborhood at night, and my neighbors are probably wondering why I haven’t given it up yet. However, I cling to my decorations as much as I cling to my memories, and the ghosts of Christmas past.
I was born into a family that was lucky enough to celebrate Christmas twice in two weeks. My mother’s parents were from Eastern Europe, and were Serbian Orthodox. That’s a tribe (so to speak) that celebrates Christmas on January 7th instead of December 25th. As a child, it was a little confusing, no matter how many times my mother explained to me and my sisters. But it didn’t matter. What did matter was that we got a bonus Christmas.
And that second Christmas was almost more magical than the first one. Santa Claus came on December 25th, but on January 7th, we got something better than Santa. We got a special holiday with our cousins. And our grandfather.
My grandfather was the one person who loved Orthodox Christmas even more than we kids did. To make it even more special, it was the birthday of his first grandchild, my oldest sister. And something she lorded over the rest of us for at least forty years. My grandfather would make a fuss over her, and then the rest of us, as he presided over the huge family meal.
Speaking of the family meal, every year the women outdid themselves, and I can only imagine the amount of work and preparation that went into it. But I can guess–they didn’t seem to enjoy the day quite as much as my grandfather did. Along with all of the food, there was always a single tall candle in the middle of the table that remained lit for the entire day. And next to it was a bottle of good whiskey.
The bottle sat there, untouched, next to the candle until the meal was finished and the trays of cookies were laid out. Then, with great ceremony, my grandfather would pour a shot of whiskey for each of the men. (He wasn’t discriminating–the women just didn’t drink shots of whiskey back then). That would signal the official end of the meal, but not the end of the celebration. The party went on forever!
When my grandfather was gone, my Uncle presided over the table for the next twenty-five years. After he passed, my Aunt took over. The tradition still continues to this day, in that house in Western Pennsylvania, with a few changes along the way. For one, the women have no problem imbibing in the traditional shot of whiskey.
Today, I will celebrate Christmas in my heart, and remember all of the wonderful lessons I learned from my grandfather. First, it’s important to stick with tradition. It’s also important to sing at the top of your lungs, no matter where you are or who is listening. Play practical jokes on people and laugh at them. Laugh even harder when the joke’s on you. A sense of humor keeps you young at heart. Also, never underestimate the value of a shot of good whiskey, especially when you’re sharing with friends and family. And speaking of family, that’s the most important lesson of all. Stay together, love each other, laugh, cry, fight with each other, and always remember that they have your back.
Today I will pour myself a shot of whiskey, raise a toast to my grandfather, and thank him for the memories, and the ghosts of Christmas past. What a gift he gave us, and what wonderful lessons of love he left for us. I would end by saying Merry Christmas, but I’ll stick with tradition….Hristos se Rodi!