exciting, informative, snarky, and very likely fabricated tales of life as an american expat in london

for my mother, on christmas

by Jen at 3:48 pm on 24.12.2006 | 2 Comments
filed under: holidaze, mutterings and musings

more than anything else, christmas makes me think of my mother.

all my best memories of christmas are intertwined with the love and effort she put into making the holiday special. a lot of that was because she loved it so much herself – and in an effort to prolong it, the christmas season in our household lasted nearly three months. the annual buildup began in october, with all the kids helping to make the giant batches of christmas pudding from a great-grandmother’s well-worn recipe. come december, there were international holidays to celebrate – like st. lucia’s day with the special saffron buns and the procession with candles, and st. nicholas’ day where we left out our shoes to be filled with chocolates and small toys. there was baking of misshapen sugar cookies for friends and neighbours. there was selecting the tree, and decorating it with years of accumulated ornaments – each one evoking a remembrance of a particular place or time, from our kindergarten years to adulthood. my mom remembered them all. there were the radio oldies which permeated the house for weeks on end from her favourite stations. there was skating on the snowy frogpond of the boston common under the lighted trees. there was carolling the wards in the hospital my dad worked at. there was wrapping hundreds of pairs of tube socks to distribute at the homeless shelter. there was piling in the car and driving around town to see the lights of the best bedecked houses. there were popcorn strings and colourful paper chains made to festoon the mantle. there were paper snowflakes and cherry winks and gingerbread houses. there were wreaths and mistletoe and pumpkin breads. but mostly there was my mother – decorating and baking and humming. always the scent of something in the oven. always my mother full of the joy of the season.

christmas eve was all about traditions. with my family’s multicultural heritage, my mom would cook a giant christmas eve smorgasboard with a dish representing each country – england, ireland, italy, yugoslavia, wales, scotland, portugal, puerto rico. after stuffing ourselves, we’d read “twas the night before christmas” together on the couch, and leave out cookies and milk for santa. when we were little and still believers in the magic, we’d lay awake in bed waiting to hear santa’s distinctive “ho ho ho” in the wee hours of the morning. when we were older, we’d go to midnight mass at our church and bring bundles of jingle bells to ring during the carol of the bells. my mother always turned to me during “the first noel” and told me it was my song. and during the mass there were inevitably old family friends who came up to me and wished me happy birthday, reminiscing about the year my mother was in labour with me during christmas eve. i felt both embarrassed and special for the attention.

and when christmas morning dawned, there were other traditions as well. officially, we were allowed to collect our stockings from the fireplace at 7 am. in reality, we snuck down the creaky stairs long before first light, muffling the bells sewn to the toes of the overstuffed stockings, clutching them to our chest until we were safely back upstairs. once my parents awoke, my mother warmed a loaf of freshly baked christmas bread and made some cocoa and we passed around one gift at a time, taking turns opening the presents. we paused to attend church services, and upon return my mother would put the turkey in the oven while we all opened the last few gifts – then immediately began arguing and fighting over them for the rest of the day.

evening was devoted to celebrating my birthday. after our big dinner, my mum always made a special “man’s cake” by my request (a yellow cake made with coffee and walnuts) and there were birthday presents and cards and singing. and my mum always waxed nostalgic about my birth, never failing to mention how i’d been born in a jewish hospital and never got to be wrapped in a stocking like the other christmas babies.

and long after christmas, my mother continued celebrating. we celebrated until ephiphany – the day the wise men finally arrived in nazareth, twelve days after christmas. the tree stayed up long into the new year, christmas goodies and puddings and eggnog were consumed for weeks. it was always with great reluctance that things were finally packed up and put away for next year. my mother hated to see it all come to an end.

and so when i think of christmas, i think of my mother – and i’m thinking of her now, with my tree lit, and carols playing in the background. i will think of her this evening when i’m at midnight mass, singing hymns and revelling in the profound peace that descends in the stillness of night. i will think of her, thinking of me – remembering her anticipation, the weight of labour and quickening amidst pealing bells and voices rising in harmony. the joy of the holiday mingling with her joy. the significance of the celebrated birth taking on new meaning for a new mother.

merry christmas, mum.

(and thanks for the birthday flowers!)




  • 1

    Comment by Nicole

    24.12.2006 @ 17:40 pm

    Happy Birthday and Merry Christmas!

  • 2

    Comment by gigi

    24.12.2006 @ 22:05 pm

    happy, happy birthday! also, glad you have such warm and loving memories of christmas eves past. hope this one is remarkable in its own way.

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