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Thursday, December 26, 2013


Stephen V. Cole remembers the Christmas times of his childhood.

I grew up in two large families and two sets of grandparents. My mother had three sisters (all with husbands and children) and my father had no end of cousins, plus a brother and sister and a great aunt and a great uncle, all of them with kids. The situation blended well, as my father's family always had "the big family thing" on Christmas Eve, when presents were passed out. As little kids, my brother and I could count on about a dozen presents from grandparents and my father's relatives. My mother's family opened presents in each household (from all the relatives), then had Christmas breakfast where the grandchildren all brought their new favorite toy. Christmas dinner alternated (as did Thanksgiving, in the opposite direction). We'd have big turkey dinners with one set of grandparents or the other at each holiday. At my father's parents, there were just Pappy, Frances, and the four of us, since the other relatives all had their own dinners. For my mother's family, dinner was the grandparents, the four sisters, the four husbands, and the eight grandchildren. That went on for many years.

Church was a minor part of it all, perhaps a quick stop there on the way to Christmas Eve. My family was Christian, but we read too many history books. We all knew that Christ was born in the spring and that Christmas was the birthday of a pagan god that had been absorbed into Christianity when the Romans merged all of the religions into one big one and called it Christianity. For us, Christmas was about family, not religion. When I hear someone say something about "the reason for the season" my reflexive answer is "Mithras? Really?" For my family, the big religious holiday is Easter, where family doesn't figure in and every household has a private day.

When my father's father passed away, that family came part at the seams, and nobody wanted to talk to each other or see each other at Christmas or at any other time. When my mother's parents passed away, things fragmented, but at least some of us got together every year. Indeed, the monthly family gatherings I had enjoyed since my earliest memories all died with Granddad. I miss those and it was a decade and more later that some of my cousins on that side started trying to bring what was left of the family back together a couple of times a year. That's been really good, as it's almost the only time I see them, and I wish we would see more of each other, but everyone is so busy. When I was growing up we all lived within a mile of Grandmother, but now the family is spread from 450 miles northwest to 250 miles south of Amarillo and the only relative in Amarillo is my only remaining aunt.

For the last five years, Christmas has resumed being something very family-special, and that's because of Jean. Her annual visits meant Leanna would actually fix a real Christmas dinner (with Jean's help), and Steve Petrick (we are closer than any brothers) would attend rather than eat alone (as he has no local family). This year we had parties for the six employees, and it felt once more like having a big family togetherness thing. I guess the lesson there is that if you lose something important to you, stop stewing in the grief and just build something good to replace it.