Family traditions are important, at least for my family—always have, and, hopefully, always will. Thanksgiving Day seems to be the designated kick-off to the Season of Traditions, continuing through New Years.
I suppose every family has their own roster of things to be done on Thanksgiving—sometimes I wonder what other families do with their own turkey day—but we focus on the same traditions each year: televised Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade in the morning, and then dinner at my in-law’s house. Dinner consists of the golden brown turkey, coleslaw, potatoes, sweet potato casserole, Hawaiian rolls, multiple variations of stuffing (in-the-bird is the best, just saying!), corn, and gravy to smother it all on your plate. Oh, and don’t forget the cranberry sauce!
I am fascinated by the tube of cranberry gel which is conformed to the shape of the aluminum can, as the blob falls from one end of the can it creates that vacuum-void-sucking sound of swooompp, and with a dull thud, it lands in the serving dish, gently dancing from side to side.
Before dinner, as the dusk concedes to the darkness, I let our dog out (he has also traveled for fabled dinner scraps) in the front yard. As he is selecting a spot to do his own business, I admire the evening sky. Power lines form strong lines across the frame, leading to a sliver moon that is cradled in the clouds. Silhouetted houses, identified by a single illuminated front window, presumably contain their own festive menagerie. A photo with my phone will be sufficient for today’s image. The dog is waiting for me to finish my business, click.
The extendable table portion is extended. Tall Pilgrim candles are lit, subconsciously marking the kid end of the table from that of the adult. Steaming trays of deliciousness are passed in a circular manner, like a human Lazy Susan, because no one can reach every single serving dish today. A prayer is given for all that we have, all that we receive, and all that we enjoy. Dinner is so very enjoyable—as in loosen your belt one notch enjoyable—and it’s followed by conversation and fellowship. Whipped cream, coffee, pumpkin, chocolate pudding, and blueberry pies are lined up for consumption, at a later time of the evening.
Afterward, there is talk of home movies. While not a year-to-year tradition, we are all intrigued by the old video tapes that my father-in-law found in the closet. An old VCR player is dusted off, eventually connected to the television correctly, and we begin to watch memories from the past, selected titles include Christmas 1992, Christmas 1994, and Blizzard of 1993 which dumped 30+ inches of snow on Western Pennsylvania that year.
Between lines of static, images of people emerge: younger versions of my wife, my brother-in-law, my mother-in-law, my father-in-law, and myself. Oh my, how young we were once. My kids are glued to the television, as they witness a period of the world when they didn’t exist. They chuckle at me and my wife, in the full thinness of our youth, and memorize our immature mannerisms and dialog of the past.
In Christmas 1994, my own younger-self character receives screen time, debuting in my first official Christmas as a member of the family. With only four months of marriage under my belt, I open Christmas gifts. I have the appearance of a young kid, and the mannerisms to match, yet I was a man of twenty-one, married, and in college. Each word, each sentence, each phrase that I say is exaggerated, drawn out, and punctuated—much like baby talk, or behavior typical of a cartoon character. As a spectator, I am perplexed. I couldn’t have been high or drunk, as I don’t indulge in such vices, but, surely, that would have been a suitable explanation. Perhaps I was heavily dosed on cough syrup, or, better yet, that deep-blue Vicks NyQuil stuff. Yes, that would make more logical sense for my actions and phrases.
Honestly, even after watching the entire unwrapping of Christmas gifts, I have no recollection of said events. It is, as if, the contents of this entire day have been erased from my mind, completely. I wonder why that it is, but can’t determine an answer.
The other silver screen characters are just as enjoyable to watch, and soon, the entire living room occupants are in a full roar of laughter.
My wife—only twenty-years-old in her debut of Christmas 1992—is equally comical by utilizing phrases such as fra-jee-lay to describe breakable items. She unwraps gifts in unequal measures of enthusiasm, but surprises you with exclamations of joy when receiving Christmas socks.
My brother-in-law, just a wee teenage lad, looks like a little kid. His baseball hat is pulled tightly against his brow, as he tries to remain the cool and collected individual of the room. Each gift that he unwraps, he inspects the price tag to see how much it costs, sometimes inquiring directly, if the number isn’t visible. For some unknown reason, he receives more than his fair share of holiday boxer shorts. His own catch phrases are Show It To The Camera, when operating the video camera, and Kachow Kachow as a generalized phrase of excitement.
My father-in-law provides his usual rounds of quirky behavior, even back then his sarcastic humor was a defining characteristic.
My mother-in-law, as she unwraps her infinite Christmas sweater collection, always checks the tag for sizing, commenting on the probability of the article fitting or not fitting.
As a more mature and refined member of society, and this family, I look back at character of Who I Was. My feelings are mixed. I wish that the old me wasn’t so immature and awkward, but, at the same time, in the same breath, accept the reality of my former self. I am pleased to be alive twenty-some years later, watching these videos with own amazing family, and having remained married to the same amazing woman that I fell in love with all of those years ago. I am experiencing equal portions of nostalgia and pride, but yet I still can’t remember experiencing any of these days that are recorded on film.
More films about ghosts: another video is unearthed from 1992, a Christmas classic, but in this title, most of the cast members are not with us anymore. The video features a family board game of Taboo, each member of the family—even myself, prior to marrying my wife—taking a turn. I can’t help to notice the Who’s Who of Death: a grandmother, a grandfather, the grandfather’s sister, an aunt, an uncle, an uncle. Another couple is no longer married, to date. There is a distinct absence of children, as the kids of the family were young adults, just children themselves.
Someday, the remaining characters in the film will also pass away, including my in-laws, my wife, and myself. Someday, my kids will watch their own films about ghosts—their children pointing out the awkwardness of their parent’s youth. I suppose that this is an illustration of the circle of life.
So in this holiday season of Thanksgiving and Christmas, take time to enjoy the people around you, for you never know when it will be their last, or your last. Find time to talk with your elders to discover facts from bygone eras, or simply reminisce about the Christmas that you sounded like the poster child for a NyQuil overdose. Remember to keep those holiday traditions alive, from year to year, for those are what define your family history. Lastly, be joyful for everything that you have, and simultaneously aware of those who do not.
Oh, and don’t forget the cranberry sauce, swooompp!