“WHERE DID YOU FIND THOSE!” my Aunt yelled. My cousin and I stood with sheepish looks and a very old pair of dark brown boxing gloves on our hands. We always managed to find them each year and have secret boxing matches in my Grandma Mary’s basement, sparring around the support beam between the laundry and the furnace, until we got caught by one of the adults. This was usually when someone got hurt, and so we had to stop.
I have a very large family with four siblings, many aunts and uncles, and about 30 cousins on my mother’s side. Christmas Eve every year we pack into my Great Grandma Mary’s little red brick house just around the corner from us. Her home has a very small kitchen, a little larger of a living room, and an unfinished basement. Needless to say, our family gatherings usually are large, loud, and somewhat crowded.
The kid’s would congregate in the basement where things would get rowdy and now and again we would be told to stop running around and to “be nice” to one another.
And every year, without fail, each of us would get a flashlight, a pair of pajamas and a card. Although we knew what we would get when the call came to open presents every kid in the place rushed upstairs and gave very sincere “thank yous” and hugs to our sweet Grandma Mary. It also seemed, without fail, that Grandma would get some lottery tickets from someone. Once we were fully packed with Chocolate Crinkles and candy, we left her house and went to church.
As time went on and my Great Grandma passed away, people got married and had families of their own, and the gathering got a little smaller. Though the gathering continues to happen today, I am now one of those older ones who have gotten married and have children. Today, things are still warm on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and we still live close to relatives, but the traditions from our childhood have slowly receded into our memories while we try to include new traditions that have come about.
At Thanksgiving this year, my wife asked me which food I look forward to the most on holidays since I don’t get too excited about mashed potatoes, stuffing, or turkey. (I like those things, minus the stuffing, but I don’t get crazy about them.) It took me by surprise and made me think about what I actually love about holidays. As I told my wife what I liked or what I wanted for our future Thanksgiving and Christmas meals I realized that what I really was looking forward to was being with family.
I don’t remember too much about what I got for gifts at Christmas or what I ate at Thanksgiving ten years ago. But I do remember the boxing gloves at my Great Grandmother’s house, and acting crazy with my cousins. I remember being squeezed into my Grandparent’s house with the heat turned up way too high, and having to open windows to let the winter chill in. I remember the packed church at Christmas. I remember lying awake until the wee hours of the morning with my brother and sisters, too excited to sleep, and deciding when it was too early to go downstairs.
When I think of these memories there is a bit of sadness in watching them fade, but I also have a joyful hope for the future. With my extended family and siblings getting married and children that come along, I can see that the past will be repeated as the new traditions resemble my own childhood. We will have a crowd at Grandma and Grandpa’s house once again and my own kids and their cousins will be getting rowdy in the basement. The little ones will build their own memories of sweets and boxing gloves and being told to “settle down and don’t hit each other,” and going to church late at night. My brothers and sisters and I will get to build memories of keeping the kids from hurting each other and making sure they eat something other than sugar. My wife and I will get to experience being awakened way too early Christmas morning by our excited kids. And this really is the beautiful way of things. The people, the houses, and the traditions change a bit, but the warm love of family remains enkindled there, and for that I am very grateful.
Photography: Flickr/ Arslan