I was reading a magazine article that suggested Christmas is a good time for families to sit around the table and share stories as a way of bringing generations together.
I was immediately catapulted into Christmas Past when our family did that very thing.
One Christmas (or more likely, a composite of Christmases, the details of each having merged into one memory), after dinner had been eaten, and the food and dishes cleared away, the adults sat around the table and talked. I say the adults, because children then were seen and not heard. The children were me, my sister and baby brother, and our cousins.
We had traveled by train to Mom's parents' house in upstate New York. After breakfast on Christmas Eve morning we walked to our aunt and uncle's house, across town. It was so cold the snow squeaked when we trod on it and our breath froze in a mist in front of our faces.
We went to my aunt's because Grandma's house was too small to host the entire family and although I don't know for sure, she probably had to work. Grandma was a waitress and proud that she had a job in the Depression. I can see her now in her white uniform with a hankie peeking out of the breast pocket. The hankie would be edged in pink or purple or yellow lace that she crocheted in what spare time she had.
But we did all get together that afternoon and evening. Grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles and cousins crowded around a table and shared a meal, after which the children were told to "go in the other room and play."
We pretended to obey, but our ears were cocked toward the kitchen where, after many cups of coffee and a few bottles of beer, the laughter grew louder and occasionally turned into guffaws as one tale after another was told: Do you remember when...?
This was how our family history was passed down -- unguarded stories and little pitchers with big ears.
Someone finally noticed it was getting late and the children needed to go to bed. We were once again bundled up to face the icy cold starting with leggings and adding jacket, galoshes, muffler, cap and mittens. We were so well padded we could have rolled down the hill to Grandma's, but we rode back in someone's car (I have a fuzzy memory of riding with my sister in the rumble seat, but that was probably another occasion). The sky was clear with the glittering stars reflected in the ice crystals caught in the tree branches.
Once inside Grandma's kitchen, our outdoor clothing was removed in reverse order, by which time we were wide awake again. A bedtime snack of cocoa and cookies appeared. The goodies were not home made. Although our mother began her baking a month before Christmas, neither of my grandmothers had, to my knowledge, ever baked a cookie in her life. These were store-bought cookies from a tin, which were a treat to us because we didn't have store-bought at home.
Tucked in bed at last, we were given the conflicting orders to go right to sleep and to listen for Santa's sleigh.
I don't know if we'll sit around the table and tell family stories this holiday. I am pretty sure, however, that if we do the younger members will stay at the table and add their own.
Traditions aren't meant to be carved in stone.