Monday, December 21, 2009

Holiday season, etc.

This may sound bizarre to some people, but being with my immediate family has generally been my favorite part of the Christmas holidays. I could easily leave all of the hype and stress and marketing associated with the holiday. When I was a kid, receiving lots of presents was important, but in more recent years I could totally skip that too and not miss it much at all. Going through Christmas without seeing anyone in my immediate family, though, really would take all of the personal meaning out of Christmas for me.

Why am a sounding like a sickly-sweet Hallmark card? The weird thing is, those cliches about Christmas being a time that brings families together and full of warmth and love and all of that stuff that makes many people feel sick - they have been pretty much true for me. Of course things aren't perfect, and there is sometimes stress and sadness, and there have been some Christmases that are much less happy than others, but overall the Christmas season is still strongly associated in my mind with fairly happy times together with family.

A couple of things help. For one thing, my brothers, parents, and I have generally gotten along fairly well for most of our lives. There have been times of anger and tension, but these have actually been very few and far between. Once me and my brothers were all adults, the sibling rivalry and adolescent-parent strife mostly faded into history. We really enjoy each others' company most of the time, so once we were all adults family gatherings took on some of the same atmosphere as gatherings of very good, old friends, with an extra dimension. The second thing that helps, I think, is that we all have a pretty casual attitude about the holidays. Nobody expects elaborate or expensive gifts. We don't worry about putting out lots of decorations. The main elements of our family Christmas are time spent together, lots of unhealthy but tasty food, a little simple decorating, and a mix of serious conversation with plenty of joking and good-natured insults.

The holidays inevitably remind all of us how much we miss Mom, though. This will be the fourth Christmas since she died, and there is a huge empty space in the family that will never be filled. My father and brothers and I still enjoy the holidays, though. The last thing that Mom would have wanted was for us to stop enjoying being together as a family, and we have not stopped.

Last Christmas was very distinctive because I went over to Germany with my father and youngest brother, and we celebrated Christmas with my middle brother, niece, sister-in-law and her family, who are from Magdeburg, a city to the west of Berlin. The year before we were in Las Cruces, New Mexico, where my brother and sister-in-law were living at the time. In fact, this is the first Christmas that I will have spent in Massachusetts in 5 years. Staying near home for Christmas actually feels a little "exotic" this year.

I have taken this week off from work and am spending it with my father and one brother at the "old family home" where I lived the majority of my childhood and part of my adulthood as well. My middle brother is staying in Germany with his family, but my other brother (unmarried like myself) flew in today from Colorado. We are also joined by a friend's dog who I am taking care of over the holidays.

Rio, our temporary family member for
the holidays - friendly, intelligent,
and generally furry and adorable.

The weather here has been seasonally appropriate. We got about 10 inches of snow from late Saturday night through Sunday afternoon, in a storm that was unusual in that it pounded places further south and along the coast with much heavier snow than the inland towns here got. There is enough to cause some problems, but not very serious, and it looks right for Christmas.

Canadian Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) in Dad's front yard.
At about 15 feet tall, it has outgrown any possibility of being
used as an indoor Christmas tree in the house.

On a less scenic note, it is really cold - partly because of the actual temperature, which has been between about 12 and 30 degrees Fahrenheit (about -11 to -1 Celsius) over the last few days - but also because of the wind. The "old family home" is near the top of a hill, and it has an open field behind it to the west. This means maximum exposure to cold winds.

View behind the house, with an area cleared out for Rio's use.

I was saying to my brother that with the cold, dry, windy air and blowing snow, coming to central Massachusetts now from Colorado Springs might not seem like much of a change. One key difference is that instead of seeing the Rockies just to the west, the best we can do is some Massachusetts hills. Well, what can ya do?

Not quite the Colorado Rockies, I'm afraid.


Clio Bluestocking said...

Not the Rockies, but lovely just the same! The Rockies are total show-offs anyway.

Cath@VWXYNot? said...

It sounds lovely. I'm also lucky enough to get on well with my family (and even my in-laws!) so I agree about the elements of a good Christmas.

Michelle said...

Looks like a lovely place to spend Christmas. I love to see snow on evergreens.

RPS77 said...

Clio - Thank you! I think, however, that as nice as they sometimes look now, they look better from April through October, when they are fully green, or at least more green than during winter.

Cath - Those elements certainly work pretty well for us, so we stick with them!

Michelle - Unfortunately, the on the evergreens rarely lasts for more than a day before the wind blows it off or it melts (depending on temperature and weather conditions), but it's nice while it lasts. I knew that I needed to get pictures the first day after snowfall to document the prettiest effects.