It’s been a frosty, sunny stretch of days here. We put up the tree, celebrated my birthday, meandered our way toward the holidays.

When I was a young teen, I made all the gifts I gave to adults. I had so many people on my list–great-grandmothers, grandparents, parents, an aunt and uncle–that I began working on them in September. I remember plotting out when I would make each one on a calendar, amazed at how little time I had. I sewed, made art, wrote books that I illustrated. I remember trying my hand at candle-making and other kinds of crafts.

This week, I have been uneasy because I am not stretched for time. By design and through loss, I have few gifts to give this year, and I can’t shake the sense that I have forgotten something important. I keep thinking there is something I’m supposed to be doing that I haven’t, and I’ve been remembering a recurring dream in which it is Christmas and I have forgotten to get presents for my family. We are having the simple holidays we decided, back in the summer, that we wanted, but I am discovering that the conditioning of 50+ years is not so easy to cast off.

I’m feeling a bit of sadness, too, some longing for holidays of years past. Today some of my cousins are gathering, but I won’t be joining them, much as I’d like to. They are too far away, Cane has to work tomorrow, and we are limiting our contact with others to increase chances that we’ll be healthy for a visit to my parents in the week after Christmas. We haven’t seen them since the summer, as illness keeps canceling our plans. The last time my extended family gathered was the Christmas of 2019. We ate the food we always eat together (Croatian spaghetti, kroštule, scotcheroos), and after dinner we sat at the table and played Apples to Apples. It was normal, familiar, comfortable, unremarkable, wonderful. For much of my life we gathered every year, around my grandmother’s table, but that year was the first time we’d been able to do so in several. We said then that we needed to make sure we didn’t let so much time pass, that we would need to make sure to meet again the following year. We had no idea what was coming at us in 2020, or that it would be years before we could gather in such a way again. Writing these words, I can’t help wondering if we ever will. How many years can we go before a tradition that had already frayed breaks completely?

I’m doing my best to let that sadness sit beside different kinds of comfort and joy–to accept that a long life is a thing of constant inconstancy, a coming-and-going stream of people and places and things that we love, a rich amalgam of grief, abundance, loss, gain, and surprise of various kinds. (We never know what might happen in any given day, do we?) This year we have my daughter with us, and her husband will be joining us from Sweden. We are looking forward to good food, a fusion of Swedish and American holiday traditions, and a day designed for introverts. I am sure there will be a year in the future–if I’m lucky–in which I will look back on this one and miss the parts of it I no longer have.

Wishing all of you peace, comfort, and joy in the coming days. I will catch up with you again in the new year.

(I just love this little bird. Another highlight from the week: Our rabbit is back. Hadn’t seen it for weeks and weeks, but yesterday we caught it eating berries from a bush in the front yard.)

8 thoughts on “Tidings

  1. Kate says:

    Oh, your tree is lovely. And I love your bird too!!

    I think a lot of us feel the interplay between joy and grief, gratitude and wishfulness this season. A friend just posted on Instagram she misses reading all the winter/Christmas picture books with her babies.Her kids are the same as mine and I sure I miss Christmas when they were little and was it was hectic and stressful and exhausting…but magic. I know some day, we’ll be celebrating a family Christmas and I will miss the ease of having them for the whole slow winter season.

    I had a moment wrapping presents yesterday where I missed my Grandma so much. She used to rent this big cabin that slept like 25 people and had a hot tub that felt as big as a pool when you were 12. She’d make all this amazing food (though I think there was one year when she was having health issues and she brought buckets of fried chicken and made everyone else bring sides but that might be my imagination?!!). It was always such an EVENT with aunts and uncles and cousins playing cards and telling stories and laughing. My sister and I talked about renting that same house and hosting it one year for her but life happened, then COVID happened. Now we talk about how without her, it’s become too easy to slip away completely from that side of the family. I hope you do get a chance to eat your traditional dishes and play games with your family again next year and that you do get to visit with your parents this one.

    I’m glad you’ll be able to celebrate with your daughter and her husband and make some new traditions – or even just find ways to celebrate THIS year. Xoxo

    • Rita says:

      Oh, your description of your family gatherings sounds so much like mine! We didn’t rent a cabin; we just all piled into my grandparents’ house. I thought it was huge when I was a girl, but I can see now that it really wasn’t. One year, when I was in my early 20s, my grandma won a big prize at bingo right before the holidays. She sent tickets to my cousins who had moved away so that everyone could be home for Christmas, and then she rented the VFW hall because with the kids who had been born and the spouses who had married in, we couldn’t all fit into her house any more. She had food catered that year, and although we all loved her bringing us together and going to all that effort and expense, we secretly admitted to each other that it wasn’t the same as being at her house. I suspect our grandmothers were alike in important ways.

      I didn’t understand then that families slip apart over time, that the web you grow up with keeps adding new layers, and you get further and further from those who were once close to you at the center. Honestly, I’m amazed that we are still as close as we are, nearly 20 years after my grandmother’s death. We’ve been purposeful about it. The women of our family regularly meet for weekend trips, and a few years back we all went to Croatia together to see the village our family came from. I’m so grateful for what we still have, knowing what I do now about things typically go. (I see no extended family in any of the other branches now.)

      I’m so grateful for a listener/fellow life-traveler who gets the happy/sadness of it all. Thank you for being one of those people for me. Wishing you a wonderful, messy holiday of your own. I’m sure you will all long remember the year your house was torn up and felt like it would never be finished, and the kids were teens (with all that means). Looking forward to seeing what the new year brings each of us.

      • Kate says:

        Thank you for your kind words, Rita. I appreciate you letting me share my stories with you. How wonderful that you’ve all made the effort to stay close and especially that you’ve been able to travel together to Croatia. What special memories you must all have together.

        Sometimes it’s when I’m reading your words, I realize it’s a feeling I’ve had but been unable to describe. I am so grateful for your posts!

        • Rita says:

          I think these old-school blogs we keep must be the modern equivalent of sitting around a fire and telling tales. I think humans will always have a need to share stories. 🙂

  2. Marian says:

    Your past Christmases sound wonderful, Rita, but so does the one you’re planning for this year. Wishing you and yours all the best this holiday season, and in the year to come.
    xo Marian

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