So while I had my week off, I realised something. Christmas didn’t suck this year. I know! I was amazed too.
Don’g get me wrong – there were no unicorns or rainbows around, but neither was there sadness or rage or “might/should have beens”. I didn’t spend the whole time thinking about the past or getting angry about the future – I simply was. I was glad my sister was there after two years’ absence, it made the whole thing feel normal again. There was no-one missing any more.
The boys actually ate their food and did not give up when the occasional fish bone found its way into their mouths. The traditional Polish Christmas Eve feast is not for the faint-hearted and while they did not eat the entire menu, I was thrilled that they gobbled up their snapper without complaint.
Then of course there was the mayhem of opening presents and the realisation that the boys don’t really care what they get, as long as they get something. It’s all about the magic of finding presents under the tree, when there weren’t any before supper and then finding ones with their names on them.
We mustn’t forget cake. There is always cake at Christmas and “makówki” and the gingerbread biscuits the boys and I made.
Then we played Mousetrap – me for the first time ever, until the boys wanted to make up their own rules, at which point we left them to it and watched Carols by Candlelight. And talked about our relatives back in Poland. I told mum about my plan to have Christmas in Poland next year with the boys, so they can meet all their relatives and so I can have a huge Christmas once again. I miss having a large family at these times of year.
I have memories of snow and driving through the afternoon and evening to get to my grandparents’ house in the country to celebrate Christmas with all the aunts and uncles and cousins. Climbing up the dark rickety old staircase, bursting in through the door from the frosty winter into the warm house. Seeing everyone already there, waiting for us, greeting us, asking for news. Then visiting the whole house, seeing all the rooms again, snuggling up to the tile stove in the corner of each room.
Then at some point, my mum’s side of the family began feuding and big Christmases became a thing of the past.
Now, one of my aunts has breast cancer which is not responding to treatment any more and I really want to see her before it’s too late. And I know they would all love to meet my boys, not to mention get some fresh gossip fodder after they’ve seen us. This is why I’m glad I’m not there permanently, the gossip and complaining and one-up-manship would drive me mad.
My other favourite Christmas memory is of walking to midnight mass through streets hushed with freshly fallen snow, Christmas tree lights twinkling in all the high rise apartment buildings’ windows. The crowd at church, which always made room for us kids to get through to the front. Singing Christmas carols and watching the priest bring out baby Jesus and put him in the manger.
My childhood Christmases were mostly all about Christ. Us children celebrated with the full knowledge of what we were celebrating. Of course, we still loved the presents that the “Star” brought us on Christmas Eve, but we put up the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve in readiness for that night’s celebration. We didn’t start to eat until the first star (the same one that brought us presents) appeared in the sky, symbolising the star that brought everyone to Betlehem. And we went to church constantly.
When we came to Australia things had to change. The days were long, so we had to start eating in the daylight, but we still went to Polish midnight mass and sang Christmas carols and the food we ate was still the same. The Christmas tree was different, but we still only put it up on Christmas Eve. (My mum still has a few decorations we brought with us from Poland.) In the early days, I was shocked to see people putting their trees up before then and still am when people put theirs up in November! Even now, I try and put it off for as long as the boys will let me, usually until the first or second week in December. We then keep it up until at least 6th of January (Three Kings’ Day), the traditional day we took trees down back in Poland.
These days, I’m not so sure what Christmas is all about. For the boys it’s all about the presents, for my parents it’s about the food and having the family together. I guess it’s the same for me.
This Christmas was also about the relief of getting a week off. Leaving the boys with my parents on Christmas Eve, driving home that night – I felt so light and easy. I looked forward to days of sleep and rest and nothing.
But overall, Christmas this year was OK. Which is a huge improvement on the last three years. Not feeling maudlin was a huge milestone.