Originally published Christmas 2007
On Christmas Day, 2001, a pact was made by three sisters. The three of us, Roz, Gillian and myself, though now middle-aged orphans, would continue to stoke the embers of traditions that we’d taken for granted all of our lives.
Every family has a holiday that glues them together; Christmas was ours. My mother would flip into festive mode weeks in advance, when the kitchen would be a whirl of planning and baking. She would spend a fortune on ingredients for fruitcake we all hated. In her big canning pot, she would mix pounds and pounds of fruit, liberally infused with a lot of booze, and anyone who walked through the door was instructed to give it a “stir and a wish”. I don’t really miss the eating, though I strongly miss the wishing.
She would ransack my father’s coin collection for quarters and dimes – 1967 and older. These silver pieces she could sterilize to hide in the Christmas pudding, the dessert we doused in custard and pushed around our plates hunting for the coins. My Dad would then corner each kid after dinner, take back the silver, and double our money in return. We were certain we were tricking him.
My mom’s recipes lay dormant for several years after her death. The family had shrunk, and nobody had the heart to resurrect something we convinced ourselves we didn’t need. It was Roz who finally started again, hauling Ari, now 16, into the kitchen to help. He was probably 7 or 8, and I realized my sister was giving my son what my mother had given me – tradition. You shouldn’t count calories and you can’t count love.
Every year a Terry’s Chocolate Orange appears somewhere in my gifts. Gilly has picked up where Mom left off, and she’s never missed a year. I buy the biggest turkey I can find, and take credit as Roz and Gilly prepare it. The same stockings are hung down the same banister. The same ornaments go up on the tree year after year, and I’ve noticed I do less of the storytelling behind each one– my sons have picked up the thread. Christopher, 19, has asked for a real tree, “like you used to have”. Every stocking gets an orange and a loonie in the toe – when I was young, it was a silver dollar – that was my father’s job, and now it is mine. And the boys toss the orange back into the fruit bowl, just like we used to.
As a child I would sit on my father’s shoulders to watch the Santa Claus parade every year, a mere block from our home. The last time he made it out to the street he pulled Christopher, just a baby, in his wagon. The last time he saw the parade was from our second story rec room window, peering through the leafless trees. I don’t go to the parade most years; some traditions are harder to revisit than others.
I can make this kitchen smell like Mom is here, but I can’t hear her singing anymore. I can’t hear the rhythmic clink of her bracelet against her watch as she works the rolling pin. I can’t see her corny Christmas apron. And I’ll never hear her tell me to have a “stir and a wish”. I can only understand, finally, that my parents too had ghosts around them at this time of year, but they artfully wove the past into the present to lend something so important to the future.
You have to become the things you are missing, or risk losing them forever.