Here we are again. My “beef” is like many others’. The Thanksgiving-Christmas-Hanukkah season seems to rush up into our faces each year, seemingly faster and faster as I get older. This year it wasn’t even Halloween yet, and a smattering of Christmas commercials started showing up on the TV. Holy moly, people. Let’s just keep taking the joy out of the holidays every year. It reminds me of the line in the original movie Miracle on 34th Street, when the young custodian at Macy’s laments to Chris Kringle (aka Santa Claus), about department stores’ bottom line for the holidays is “make a buck, make a buck.” I highly recommend this original version of the movie, the black and white one. It’s exactly what I wish Christmas was. Each year I’ve watched Merry Christmas Charlie Brown, evoking the true meaning of Christmas. What a beautiful reading Linus gives us in the spotlight. I get verklempt just thinking about it.
Back in the late 50’s-early 60’s when I was a child, the first indication of the coming holiday season was the magical arrival of the Christmas edition of the Sears-Roebuck mail order catalog. The one with all the toys in it. The section’s pages got pretty dog-eared fast. And, the official holiday advertising started, not one second earlier, but after Thanksgiving. Now, I think these too-early reminders of the approaching holidays may serve to irritate and stress, rather than inspire or delight.
I know this is a bit of a tirade (and it’s my time to shift from it), but, I just wish for the good ol’ days. Our childhood household and family unit turned out not to be the best, but the one thing my otherwise troubled parents managed, was to make Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays really good ones, especially when we were children. There were three main households: our house in town, The Kuhlman’s on Crumtown Road, and the Toivonen’s up on the hill above Crumtown Road. Yes, it really was spelled Crumtown. I’ve yet to delve into the name’s origins.
The turkey dinner my mother made was delicious in its simplicity: basted, stuffed roast turkey, stuffing made from hand-torn, air-dried bread cubes from a loaf or two of Sunbeam Bread mixed with ground poultry seasoning, salt, pepper, and margarine-sautéed onions and celery. That was it. It was delicious and I still make it that way, but now I buy the pre-seasoned Pepperidge Farms sage and onion flavored bread cubes. We never had sweet potatoes or green bean casserole back then, but I have added those to my offerings over the years. I even like a spinach salad with mandarin orange sections with my meal. Of course, there were mashed potatoes, cranberry jelly, applesauce, gravy, and pumpkin pie with whipped cream and coffee.
I remember Thanksgiving was always held at our house in town. I loved it when our grandparents came to our house. It happened so rarely, since we always went to their houses at least a couple times a week. Hilma and Hannes, and Frank and Maiju, are who I really miss from my childhood. My grandmothers especially held a quiet love for us, their grandchildren. I must acknowledge how much I miss my late half-sister, Darla. She was huge in our childhood, too, her being 15 years older than me. She sadly passed in 1991 at the age of 52 … way too early. Yes, I miss her.
Christmas was the same. The grandparents came for Christmas Eve, though. There are Kodak black and white snapshots of snacks in the living room. For as long as I can remember, my mom made a delicious cream cheese clam dip that I’ve taken on, too. In those black and whites, my sister and I are pretty little. The tree really cracks me up. Always cut from either grandparents’ farm land, and usually a misshaped white pine sapling, we decorated it from a box of decorations fetched from somewhere … I have no idea where they were stored (it just occurred to me, most likely the cellar). It wasn’t the basement, it was the cellar. I still remember the dry stack flat stone foundation walls of that mid-nineteenth century Italianate style village house.
But, now that I’ve lamented a bit, the question becomes: isn’t it up to me to make the holidays the way that I’d like them to be? I can’t do anything about how early the advertisements start in the media. There’s no reason to disparage commerce and profits. Those department and specialty stores give people jobs. It’s up to me to make the holidays MY holidays. I can still believe in eight tiny reindeer and a jolly old elf. I can still believe in the power of gratitude and appreciation in a sometimes-crazy world. I have the ability to shut the crazy out at any time.
I think if more people like me and you could detect our own complaining and grousing right away in our minds, and switch it around to appreciation and loving the good in our lives, the holidays can become the time we wish them to be. My mind is the only thing I truly have control over. Thanksgiving can also be a time of inner reflection and forgiveness. After all, forgiveness is not about the other group or person or people who’ve become rascals in my life, it’s all about me, and my own letting go of the argument, the complaint, the contempt, the resentment. When I let those things go, I’m a thousand times more likely to have peace of mind.
At this time of year, I wish you your own peace.