Over the past ten years I’ve spent Christmas surrounded by family – my husband’s family. If anyone knows how to do Christmas… it is most certainly a Clark. His family celebrates for WEEKS. His Christmas starts on Thanksgiving when all the Christmas decorations are dusted off and set up to be enjoyed until New Years Day. Mama Clark then starts the Christmas cooking tradition which includes making all of her most treasured recipes: candied pretzels, dill-and-ranch oyster crackers, homemade suckers, and everyone’s favorite: breakfast pie. Next comes the Christmas music and the Christmas movies… which I have noticed that the entire Clark family are 100% obsessed with. Christmas movies are watched on a daily basis up until the napping commences on Christmas day. Christmas shopping intensifies up until the very last-minute on Christmas Eve right before the family congregates at his Mimi’s house to eat dinner and open gifts. Christmas Eve at Mimi’s house is often followed by the candle-lit service at First Presbyterian. The next morning the family opens gifts together and then hurries through getting dressed to meet at his father’s house for Christmas breakfast. Christmas breakfast is a protein rich affair (as everyone LOVES bacon, country ham, and sausage) which is succeeded by more gift opening and indigestion. I have spent almost every Christmas over the past decade like this – surrounded by a warm and loving family, but feeling like something was missing: my family. Not that my family is the kind of family that really goes overboard at Christmas or that they have decade long traditions that make Christmas special. It’s just that – well, they are my damn family and I miss them.
I cannot lay out a cookie-cutter Sanford family tradition, because there isn’t one. Sanford family Christmas traditions vary a lot from individual family to individual family. I know this personally, because I was the community child in the family… often passed from person to person for the holidays. Over the years I spent Christmases with my grandparents, my dad, or my mom and had a sprinkling in of festivities that occurred at my aunts’ homes. Each Christmas over the course of my life was extremely different from the one before it and I grew to love the constant unpredictability that the holiday season held for me. After all… isn’t that part of the allure of Christmas – the surprises?
Christmas at my grandparents was not an extravagant affair – it was an intimate one. The only real sign of Christmas that existed in the house was the decorated living room and I’m not sure that a tree plus a few random decorations exactly count as “decorated.” The Christmases that I spent with Mamaw and Papaw weren’t the large family get-togethers of years past – Christmas at Mamaw and Papaw’s was quiet, peaceful, and heartfelt. My favorite Christmas memories about my grandparents aren’t about the gifts that I got – instead they are memories that remind me of how important I was to them. When I was ten years old my dad’s car broke down right before he was supposed to pick me up for my holiday break from school… at this same time my Papaw’s Ford Ranger was on the fritz. That Christmas I begged my mom to return all of my presents and buy me a plane ticket, so I could spend Christmas in Haywood County – she said no. That night I called my Papaw and cried as I told him that I wouldn’t be able to make it home for Christmas. Papaw never was one who could handle a child’s tears, so the next morning he leased a Camry and I got to come home for Christmas in spite of all the Sanford family car trouble. One other memory comes to mind that lets me know just how precious I was to my Mamaw and Papaw. When I was fifteen years old my grandparents opted out of buying gifts and chose to hand out money instead. That year they handed out $100 to each of their children and $25 to each of their grandchildren… somehow I didn’t receive a card at the same time as everyone else. My heart was crushed – I honestly believed that I had been forgotten. That night after the family festivities were over Mamaw hugged my neck and told me that my Papaw had a surprise for me when he drove me home. As Papaw drove me back to my house he pulled an envelope out of his pocket and said, “I couldn’t give this to you in front of everyone else. I don’t think that they understand that you are different.” My envelope held a 50 dollar bill. Those two memories could easily outshine every single gift that I have ever been given and every single gift that I will ever receive… simply because they were moments that proved that I was special.
I wish that I could say that Christmases spent with my daddy were heartfelt occasions, but they weren’t. That isn’t to say that Christmas with my daddy wasn’t special, because it was. I suppose the best way to sum up Christmas with my daddy would be to say that it was never a boring event. My daddy hated Christmas and I don’t mean to say that he was one of those people who just didn’t get in the spirit… I mean to say that he truly HATED Christmas. As in, if my daddy were the Grinch… the Whos down in Whoville would’ve been fucked. Daddy was ready for Christmas to be over before it had started. The Christmas tree at daddy’s house went up the day before Christmas and came down the day after – there were no other decorations – just the tree. Daddy even went so far as to rush Christmas into being over as quickly as possible and it was in this way that he created his own rebellious tradition that has gone on to have become my absolute most beloved. When everyone fell asleep Christmas Eve, Santa would sneak in with presents causing so much noise that he would “wake” up my daddy, daddy would then wake the the rest of the house up around midnight to dig into their gifts. Christmas morning everyone slept late and got up for a very late breakfast at which my daddy would exuberantly yell, “Bah Humbug” anytime someone said anything about it being Christmas. Daddy’s anti-Christmas approach to the holidays has easily become one of my most beloved holiday memories, because it’s just that damn impressive that he could turn something so traditional into something so unique.
Christmas with my mom wasn’t heartfelt in the sentimental kind of way and it wasn’t completely different from everyone else’s Christmas traditions either, but it was never-the-less special. Christmas with my mom was special for many reasons, but my favorite reason being because my mom was someone who I was never forced to share. I didn’t have to share my mom’s affections with other children. I never felt left out, forgotten, like someone else got more than I did… I never felt anything with my mom on Christmas besides her complete and total adoration of me. Mom’s house was much like my grandparents’ and my daddy’s… it was not overly decorated. We had a Christmas tree and that was pretty much it. There was one big difference about the trees at mom’s in comparison to the trees everywhere else though – the Christmas tree at my mom’s house looked like it magically hovered above a sea of gifts… gifts whose tags bore one name: Cassie. I use to wonder if my mom ever considered that she was spoiling me, but now that I have children of my own I know that she knew it and I know why she did it. My mom has never been an emotional tell-you-how-I’m-felling kind of woman. She isn’t the kind of person who says much of anything… she’s the kind of woman who shows you. There was never a Christmas that passed with my mom that I didn’t end the day knowing that I was the one thing in this world that she would break her bank on.
After writing all of that I realize that I have missed out on nearly ten years of things that make me feel special and important. I’m not sure why I’ve done that, but I vow to myself that this year will be different. I already know that it’s going to be a better Christmas than I expected, because my baby sister is probably going to be given permission to stay with relatives! Since my family is so close this year and I know my baby sister will be in town – I can think of absolutely nothing that would make me happier than a truly spontaneous Sanford Christmas. I vow that this Christmas will be all about the things that make me insanely happy… I will give at least one person a heartfelt gift that will ruin all other gifts before it and after it, I’ll bring my sister her presents at 4 am when I get off work on Christmas Eve – because that’s what my daddy would do, and I will spoil my kids rotten with a sea of gifts – because I can think of no way better to say: “You two little girls are my world and worth going broke over,” and after the magic of Christmas morning has passed… I will sleep until 5 pm, wake up for the latest breakfast in the history of breakfasts, and shout a heartfelt “Bah Humbug” to anyone who doesn’t like my plans!