Working on Christmas celebrity status
Posted: Friday, November 25, 2011 8:02 pm
By: By Glenda Caudle
I come from a long line of Christmas impresarios.
My mother, my grandmother, my great-grandmother — and perhaps even my great-great-grandmother and further back, for all I know — knew how to stage the celebration. They built unassailable reputations on their ability to make the holiday completely out-sized and enduringly momentous.
I cannot smell an orange without an immediate memory of my grandmother’s fruit-and-candle centerpiece on a gleaming crystal-silver-china-linen table that featured, in addition to a banquet-sized meal of Southern cooking at its best, a special little Christmas treat marking each place.
I cannot taste coconut without seeing my great-grandfather patiently grating the white meat of the fruit at the kitchen table two days before Christmas — every Christmas — so my great-grandmother could have it fresh and still damp for her famous Christmas coconut cake. It was beyond delectable when consumed with her homemade boiled custard that would shame anything poured from a carton today.
I cannot decorate a Christmas tree without hearing my mother direct that activity from her cheerfully festooned dining room while she was busying her own hands with laying out a selection of hors d’oeuvres to welcome in the season for family and friends and mark my father’s December birthday at one giant pre-Christmas warm-up activity.
I cannot wrap a present without recalling the clever ways huge mounds of gifts were presented under the multi-generational family tree and how, whatever the wrapping material turned out to be, the packaging would be carefully recycled and updated the next year.
I cannot place decorations on every available surface in my house without seeing the bubbling, gleaming, shimmering, sparkling reds and greens and silvers and golds that teased the eye throughout the homes of these women who passed on their genes and their holiday passions to me.
I cannot listen to seasonal carols without hearing the magical, musical church Christmas programs they were always instrumental in presenting.
I cannot address a Christmas card without recalling the personal notes that sometimes ran to letter-length they were prone to include with their nativity greetings.
I cannot sleep on Christmas Eve because the magic they created in celebration of the birth of Jesus is still so fresh in my mind and because it still generates something close to the level of excitement they brewed for me as a child.
Five children of my own, then, were — surely — God’s gift to me of an opportunity to make for them magical Christmas memories that would rival my own.
I begin early. I work hard. I go overboard. I throw caution to the winds. I am a Christmas whirlwind. I am working on legend status and the competition is fierce.
Some people, I’ve discovered, lack my appreciation of the finer things associated with the secular side of the Christmas celebration. Even people I love dearly.
First, they united in an effort to force me to give up silvery icicles on the tree. I suspected their icicle-phobic father of bribery. He had previously tried the tactic on me. Apparently I am made of sterner stuff than my weak-willed offspring. But even I could not stand forever against their united front.
Then they overruled me and insisted on substituting a pole with protruding fluffable greenery for a real cedar with gently cascading needles and sinus-opening fragrance. I did’t suspect their father in this instance. I flat-out caught him red-handed in this switch and he didn’t even blush when I pointed a finger. He even seemed quite pleased with himself as he separated the color-coded branches into appropriate piles the day he brought the plastic eco-monster home.
They have exhibited a preference for silly TV holiday specials featuring questionable humor and a complete lack of refinement and good taste rather than The Chipmunks’ rendition of seasonal favorites as a background for decorating the Christmas tree. Their father continues to roll his eyes when they flick the remote, but I’m inclined to think he’s simply trying to throw me off track when I try to assess blame. After all, the man has a lot of Scroogery to account for already, in my Christmas book.
They have snickered at my efforts to make gifts appear gay and appealing by making sure the red and green tissue paper peaks out of the gift bags with points perfectly aligned. You can probably guess who is inclined to place these offerings under the tree in untidy piles that crumple the tissue as though such things were of no significance at all. Hint: I’ve mentioned him before.
They have made it an item of annual holiday hilarity to tap the bottoms of Christmas breakfast biscuits and Christmas dinner rolls against the edge of their plates at meal time to suggest they might be a trifle over-browned. Their father, however, has displayed the good sense never to criticize the cook, since he doesn’t want the job himself. So he pretends to be in sympathy with me over this burning issue. I remain suspicious of his true opinion, nevertheless.
They have studiously ignored any item with my byline that appears in this newspaper with the foolhardy notion that if they do not read something I write, it cannot possible be (1) about them or (2) something that will cause them to have to defend me publicly. Their father should have warned them, at this point, that my pen is so much mightier than their “magical thinking” exercises. He knows first-hand.
They have placed bets, on Christmas morning, as to which of them will end up with the package I have foolishly mislabeled or whose gift — I will realize with horror as the last present is opened — I have misplaced between the store and the Christmas tree. The man who contributed half their genes doesn’t even waste energy shrugging his shoulders over such issues any longer. And that is a healthy choice for him to make.
They have staged side-splitting guessing games to decide precisely how they should utilize the “As Seen on TV” stocking stuffers I feel compelled to provide year after year. I’ll give him credit: The man I’ve shared more Christmas with than anyone else I know, at this point, has the good sense not to make it too obvious he’s mentally totaling up the amount I’ve spent on such fripperies.
I have been, as you can see, stymied in all my efforts to attain the cult-like Christmas status that my foremothers enjoyed. I have no precious memories to pass on, no enduring holiday traditions to nurture year after year.
I am, instead, the stuff jokes are made of.
But at least they will recall me with a smile.
There are, I suppose, worse legacies.
Mrs. Caudle may be contacted at email@example.com.
Published in The Messenger 11.25.11