Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Dec. 30, 2011

25 years of Christmas memories

Last weekend, husband Art and I celebrated our 25th Christmas together. It was a lively affair, with family members who hadn't been here for the holidays since 1992. Youngest niece Larisa came from Georgia on Dec. 17. Sister Gaila and her husband Humberto arrived from Bolivia on Dec. 20. Oldest niece Gabriela traveled from New York on Dec. 21. Uncle Stan and Aunt Kay flew in from California on Christmas Eve.

It was a special time, just as all our holidays have been.

Most have included cutting our own VERY LARGE Christmas tree, watching holiday movies, giving each other gag gifts and traveling through wintry landscapes. We've added family members over the years, including Mariya's spouse Lacey and several great-nieces and nephews.

Of course, some were marked by the sadness of losing loved ones - my Dad, Art's Mom, my late husband Jerome's parents, aunts and uncles, friends.

Youngest daughter Katie, who just started college in the fall, noted the bittersweet aspect of the season.

"I always think about my grandparents who aren't here," she told us the day after Christmas.

"And things are really different this year because I'm not living at home. I sort of wish my bedroom was like it was when I was living here. And I wish I had my old bed and that it was against the window wall instead of the other wall," she said, her lips quivering slightly as she spoke.

I asked if she wanted to sit on my lap.

She nodded, curled up and put her head on my shoulder. We rocked in my rocker and talked a bit. Then she sat up, grinned and said, "I don't fit as well as I used to, do I?"

Ah, yes, the tug of wanting things to stay the same and yet longing for new experiences. The holiday season is a microcosm of our dual desire to re-create old memories and make new ones. We want to receive gifts from our "wish lists," but we also want to be surprised.

We love our traditions of cutting our own tree at a local nursery, opening presents on Christmas morning, and eating Chinese food on Christmas Day or Christmas Eve. Being with extended family members has also been important and most years we have traveled thousands of miles to see relatives. We drove to Wisconsin almost every year of the past 25. One year when Mariya was small, Art placed a gag gift of coal in her stocking. For years after, she made sure it ended up in his stocking.

Yet there have been a few Christmases that have been quite untraditional. German friends Bärbel and Heidrun shared the holidays with us in 1991. Katie, oldest daughter Mariya and I flew to Bolivia in 1998 and the three of us traveled there with Mom in 2003. German exchange student Nadja was with our family for Christmas 2005. Last year, Art and I drove to Chicago before Christmas to enjoy festivities in the Windy City. Later, Nadja and boyfriend Tim joined us. This year was also different with so many family members here, with our traveling limited to Salina and with Art not spending any part of the holidays in his home state.

Gifts for the girls have shown that same mix of tradition and new. When the girls were young, dolls, stuffed animals and games brought them delight. Now, a disc with episodes of "Big Bang Theory" or "Fringe" or an electronic gadget produces that same reaction. But their love of books, both old and new, has been a constant. This year, each girl received a copy of "Mickey's Christmas Songs," a reproduction of a play-along songbook we gave them when they were little. They laughed when they saw them and immediately started pushing the buttons to play the songs.

But it was something new, yet also old, that seemed to touch just the right chord for Katie this year. "Cobweb Christmas," a holiday book we gave Mariya before Katie was born, is a tale of an old German woman who gives gifts to village children, her pets and woodland creatures, but wishes for some Christmas magic of her own. Every year, the girls read the book out loud together.

And for almost as many years, Katie has remarked that she'd like to have her own copy. I finally remembered that wish this year and checked to see if it was still in print. The original wasn't, but an almost identical newer version was available. So I ordered it, wrapped it up when it arrived, and marked it "To Katie, from Santa."

It was the last gift Katie opened. She was completely surprised and first hugged it to her chest and then started to turn the pages. Then she paused ... and began to cry. After a moment, she looked up, eyes filled with tears, and asked, "Where did you find it?"

Year 25? I think it is safe to say that it, too, was memorable!

Top: nine-year-old Mariya singing songs from the original Disney song book to three-year-old Katie's delight; bottom: Lacey, Mariya and Katie with some of their gifts from this year. Katie is holding the "Cobweb Christmas" in her right hand.

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Earlier columns from 2011 may be found at: 2011 Index.
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