Memoirs of Richard Bleil
Perhaps my favorite family tradition was Christmas Eve when I was growing up. We had a tradition that I had tried to revive, but somehow never could.
It all started when my sister and I were just kids. For Christmas Eve, mom and dad would put out Beer and Salami for Santa. Being of moderate to middlin’ intelligence, we once asked my we are putting out beer and salami, when we are supposed to be putting out milk and cookies. My parents, being of an intelligence level at least a little bit higher than that of their very young children replied, “Don’t you think that by the time Santa Claus gets here, he’s pretty much sick and tired of milk and cookies?”
That was taken by us as an acceptable answer.
A little caveat here is in order, which will seem unrelated, but you’ll soon understand. My mother used to make a lot of different styles of Christmas cookies; sugar cookies, thumbprint cookies, spritzes, chocolate kiss cookies, peanut butter bar cookies, just a lot of them, but we were never allowed to eat them. She would tease us with them, let us see them, let us smell them, but never let us eat one. She would simply store them, and then throw them all away. No, that’s a lie; she would store them until Christmas, when she brought them all out, and we ate them throughout the day.
Fast forward some years, and my sister and I are quite a bit older, but we are STILL putting out beer and salami, long past the age where parents would put out treats for Santa. Kids; don’t ask…parents are just weird. So, being of moderate to middlin’ intelligence, we once again asked why we were still putting out beer and salami for Santa. My parents, being not quite smart enough, didn’t have a good answer this time.
This led to a Christmas Eve tradition that is still my favorite of the season, and that I still wish I could replicate.
On Christmas eve, we would have an early and very light dinner usually consisting of my dad’s homemade soup and sandwiches. Sometime around six or seven, my mother would bring out all of the Christmas cookies, a meat and cheese tray, cookies, vegetables with dip, crackers…the works. And we would all share in a Christmas eve snack.
The snack wasn’t what I most about this tradition. Rather, it was the comaraderie. I’m guessing my mother invited them, but the neighbors would soon learn that we were doing this every Christmas eve, and since most of them had no Christmas eve tradition themselves, they started to come by. We lived on a cul-de-sac in the same house for a couple of decades. Most of our neighbors were long term homeowners as well, and if you’ve ever lived in a cul-de-sac, you’d realize that this typically means that the neighbors are pretty friendly with each other. We all knew each other quite well, so this type of activity was very well-received and attended.
This is my favorite memory. It wasn’t about the presents, or the singing, or the movies. It was just a lot of friends getting together and sharing in each other’s company. The neighbors would, of course, bring treats of their own, and it was really just visiting. I was really too young to be a part of it in any significant way; I wasn’t really seen or accepted as an individual myself but was just my parent’s child. These were my parent’s friends, and I really had nothing of significance to talk with them about, and yet I could see the friendship in the gathering.
This, to me, is what Christmas SHOULD be about. I get the symbolism of giving gifts at Christmas. Christians view Christ as a gift from God, giving the gift of forgiveness of sins, and salvation from Hell. Giving gifts is a symbolic reflection of this belief, and yet, it has grown in commercialism to the point that I’m not even sure that most Christians remember this symbolism. Because of the rampant commercialism, not only has this been lost, but frankly, the religious aspect of Christmas has been lost by many as well. One year, in middle school, I tried to explain this to my family on Christmas Eve, and asked if I could give a prayer of thanks before opening the gifts. This…was not well-received. It simply delayed getting what we were getting. This is very sad.
Today, I am still a very spiritual person, but even at that, it’s kinship that I miss the most at Christmas. I guess Christmas means different things to different people, but all in all, remembering that we are all siblings of one another isn’t a bad meaning.