My mother passed away 21 years ago. She would have turned 81 this past weekend. She was artistic and silly, but beyond that, a woman to whom I never did become close. She kept her thoughts private, clinging to some turmoil my siblings and I didn’t understand. As we grew up, we noticed she spent more time in her room and less time in front of her painting easel.
Recently, however, I have been thinking about the holiday traditions she maintained for our family. That’s when her creativity extended beyond her watercolor canvases into each room of the house. At the start of the holiday season, we would come home from school one day to find holly and pine strung throughout the foyer and the dining and living rooms, trailing around mirrors, chandeliers, and atop the china cabinet.
The dining room table became Mom’s new canvas as she prepared for holiday dinners and family gatherings. She created centerpieces of flowers and pinecones, and carefully set out all the china (Spode for Christmas), silver, and crystal she and my father collected over the years. She smiled and giggled as she crouched behind one of the dining chairs while my father took a photograph of her masterpiece before dinner began.
Her meals were as artistic as the setting: the traditional turkey and homemade stuffing for Thanksgiving, and sauerbraten for Christmas dinner. I recreate the stuffing each year the best I can. I recently braved making sauerbraten for a dinner party, having been too scared to risk a Christmas dinner for my family with a failed attempt at the German beef dish. While I prepared the gravy, I insisted all the guests eat gingersnaps from the box—that’s part of the tradition, after all.
The holidays also lured my mother to the piano, where we would gather around her to sing on Christmas Eve. And everyone would beg her to pause somewhere in the Christmas carol roundup and play a classical piece by Beethoven just so we could watch in awe as her hands sped up and down the keys.
Christmas morning began with opening presents, followed by eggs Benedict and Mimosas for the adults (or a Bloody Mary for my grandmother). As I watch my kids and my husband now enjoy the eggs Benedict and Mimosas, I always think of Dad’s delight at the simple traditions Mom maintained for twenty-five years, until their marriage ended. His laughter and chatter rings in my ears every Christmas, even though he, too, has long since passed away.
These traditions and memories, and many more, helped provide some solid ground for me even when the family fell apart and, after college, I moved across the country for a new beginning. When my husband and I began our own family, we carefully blended in some of my traditions with his, and crafted a few new ones of our own. When I reflect on the traditions that came from my mother, and talk about them with my kids, it makes me feel just a little bit closer to her. And hopefully my children do, too, even though they never met her.
Happy Birthday and Merry Christmas, Mom. I hope you and Dad are singing, laughing, and perhaps enjoying some of your homemade eggnogSHARE THIS