The Same Old Christmas, by Randy Fitzgerald
Looking back over the years
Logically, I should be able to remember about 70 Christmases at this point, but somehow they run together in two separate storylines. First, I recall – almost as one big Christmas – the ones of my youth, when my dad, mom, and younger brother and sister celebrated in a series of four homes as I grew up in Charlottesville. I remember only a few individual details of those Christmases, and then only in terms of what house we were living in at the time. It’s hard to believe that as exciting and as much anticipated as all those Christmases were, now they mostly run together in my mind and, in a positive way, are much the same old Christmas.
After all three of us kids grew up and married, we continued to “go home” for Christmas, and Mom continued – now with the help of daughters-in-law – to re-create the family Christmas we’d always known. It’s moms who keep the Christmas traditions alive. At my house, Mom always cooked the exact same Christmas breakfast and dinner – and most important – the same dressing that had been passed down from earlier Fitzgerald generations. I think any change would have caused a riot.
We always had a cedar tree, and Barb’s family did, too (one tradition we changed when we married – too sticky). Everybody in the house had to put on at least a few balls or a little tinsel. We put out the same familiar decorations year after year: the laughing stuffed Santa who stood by the fireplace, the poinsettias on the tables, the white lights Mom loved.
My aunts, uncles and cousins showed up around dusk, year after year, for eggnog, turkey sandwiches and another round of gift exchange. Mom and Dad (who owned various restaurants for most of their adult lives) usually had a party during Christmas week for all the people who worked for them; but Christmas Day was reserved for family. It was the only day all year that Dad closed his restaurants.
Mom died in 1979, but her Christmas traditions remain, now going into a third generation. We, her children, re-created them, without even thinking about it, each year as our own children grew. Early on Christmas mornings, a new generation of children met under the tree, screaming their excitement. Then came the traditional biscuits-and-gravy breakfast, followed by the arrival of everybody else in the family the house could hold. The siblings, their in-laws, their mothers and uncles – a houseful, just as had been when I was small. Next, we enjoyed the same traditional Christmas menu, with that unique cornbread-and-biscuit dressing. (Wait – here comes Barb’s sister with the Goodman family’s dressing. People get serious about their dressing!)
I’ve been struck each year with how well we continue to follow the holiday traditions set by our parents, with how deep those patterns remain within us. But in keeping with the new culture, I try to help out more in the kitchen. I actually enjoy it, but last year, I recall, I was asked to leave. The only bad Christmas I’ve had was the one we spent in Paris. We had been living in England for a while and couldn’t get home, and Paris seemed like a good idea. The surroundings were beautiful … but it wasn’t Christmas.
Yet, we have good friends with grown children and a grandchild who round up their whole family each year and spend Christmas in some exotic fashion. One year they all went together to Mexico, another they went to Italy and last year to Cuba. It works really well for them, and those trips are now their tradition. I think Paris would have been wonderful, too, if we had had our family with us.
After all, family – being together – is what really makes it “the same old Christmas,” and I think the same old Christmas is the goal. Everything else – all the gifts, all the great food – well, that’s just gravy. (And biscuits, of course.)
Merry Christmas, boomers. I hope it’s a great one – the same as always!
Randy Fitzgerald is the author of Flights of Fancy: Stories, Conversations and Life Travels with a Bemused Columnist and His Whimsical Wife, published last fall. He was a longtime public relations director at the University of Richmond and columnist for The Richmond News Leader and the Richmond Times-Dispatch and taught modern American literature at Virginia Union University. RFitzger@gmail.com. Find more of Randy’s contributions here!