Every Christmas Eve, we would all pile into my grandmother’s small row home in Darby. The aunts and uncles would toss gifts around the living room as the cousins claimed their usual spots along the stairs. I have no idea what we ate or who got what. But I remember the feeling – that warm joy in my heart that I was with my favorite people in the world.
Today, we still gather together for Christmas Eve. Over the years, we’ve lost precious loved ones and their presence is deeply felt on this occasion. There is still joy though, and now it’s more about the food (hoagie dip? scallops wrapped in bacon?) and the fashion (this means you Michelle) than the gifts. I look forward to this night all year.
My husband and I laugh (and sometimes argue) over the difference in our holiday experiences growing up. We ALWAYS had Christmas morning at our house and my entire extended family lived between 10 and 40 minutes away. His family moved around a bit and hit the road every Christmas to visit family in Pittsburgh. He tells great stories of family traditions and Christmas mornings filled with cousins at his grandparent’s house. This year, we will have the best of both worlds with both families. And hopefully next year, we will have our own tradition.
Here are some of my favorite “Christmas Stories” from over the years…
- My first Christmas memory at the Melrose Ave. house when Mr. Pompilli dressed up as Santa for the neighborhood kids. I remember knowing it was him; I was only 3 or 4 at the time. Clearly, my tendencies towards over-analysis started at a very young age.
- That feeling when you wake up and you realize that Santa has been at your house that night. I still remember taking those first steps down to the living room where you catch a glimpse of Christmas morning. For me, it was all about that the Barbie Townhouse. It was everything.
- This isn’t so much a favorite, as it is memorable – as in the scarred for life variety. One Christmas Eve my parents got into a terrible fight. My brother decided to stay in my room that night because we were upset. In the middle of the night, I went to find my mom and walked in on my parents. Let’s just say they were no longer fighting. I quickly returned to my room and told my brother not to worry – they were not getting divorced.
- A few years ago, Ryan and I escaped to New York – on Christmas Day. We got up early, took the train, and had a real New York holiday complete with ice skating at Bryant Park and a trip to Serendipity.
- Every Christmas with Ryan.
- And last, but certainly not least, the year I got this…(and yes, my brother had a matching outfit)
Yesterday was a good day. We stumbled upon a holiday greens sale at the Arboretum at Swarthmore College complete with S’mores and a bonfire. Then we ventured out to Arasapha farms for the perfect Christmas tree. Ryan and I made mulled wine, played a little holiday music, danced around the dining room, and decorated the tree.
Then I found it. The ornament that reminds me of December 2010. The holidays are a magical time of the year. You can find joy everywhere. I still find joy in that long December three years ago. Happy and scared to finally be pregnant, I felt like I was in a bubble – that time before no one really knows and you’ve got this amazing little secret.
And then comes the unexpected, tremendous silence and emptiness that changes everything, and this week in time will never be the same. Christmas will never be the same. You will never be the same.
But then you find this light – a husband who picks you up and carries you across the coals; a mother who lets you lay in her bed and takes care of you like she did when you were little; and support from so many other members of this “club” that none of you ever wanted to be a part of. Ironically, there is also this incredible surge of hope. Looking back, the hope part still makes me sad because “it” never happened and “that” baby never came – not the first, not the last. Your story changed and took another direction.
We’ve all experienced loss in some way or another. I don’t know what it is like to lose a spouse, a sibling, a friend or a parent too soon. This time of year, I think of all those people in my life who know that kind of loss. Then I try to remember all of the blessings. I have a supportive, healthy family, an amazingly supportive husband, and treasured friends. Life can still be good and sometimes you even forget about the hole in your heart.
And then that beautiful butterfly ornament flies out of that holiday box of decorations that has been stored in the basement all year. It immediately fills your house with a spirit that takes you back to those quiet moments three years ago – the ones that no one knows but you. The spirit doesn’t want you to forget them. It wants to stay part of you and everything that life has planned for you. It reminds you that it has never forgotten you and will always be a part of the love that created it. Then you cry. You cry like that day you released all of those souls and you saw the snow that no one else saw. You cry as if you are meeting for the last time (but hopefully not). You cry because you are so happy to be surrounded by that joy – if just for a moment.
Maybe none of it is real and maybe I imagined the whole thing. I don’t care. It’s mine.
One of my favorite scenes from Friends is when Rachel attempts to make a Classic English Trifle in “The One Where Ross Got High.” You know… the one with layers of ladyfingers, jam, custard (which she made from SCRATCH!), raspberries, more ladyfingers, beef sauteed with peas and onions, a little more custard, bananas, then whipped cream. Love.
I discovered the trifle last year when I needed a hearty dessert for kids and adults. It worked well for several reasons – it was easy, fun to make, required no baking and included pudding. Pudding makes everything better. Over the holiday season, I ended up making three trifles – all delicious. And while the trifle is about taste, presentation is everything. That is why the first step in trifle making is finding the bowl. You need to go big with a large trifle bowl like this one from Sur la Table. And the only thing cuter than the grand trifle bowl is the mini trifle bowl. How cute would it be to serve yours in these petite trifle bowls from Crate & Barrel?
Whether you are hosting a party, heading to a potluck, or looking for a sweet treat to bring to the office, you can’t go wrong with a trifle. And the best part of the trifle is its endless flavor combinations. Once you’ve got the basics – the cake (pound, angel or ladyfingers), custard/pudding, and whipped cream – you can go crazy with the rest.
Here are some of my favorites…But if you don’t like any of these, you can always try Rachel’s version. I searched high and low for the original version of her “Classic English Trifle,” but could only find one for my vegan friends here.
Caramel Apple Trifle
The Classic English Trifle (the REAL one)
The Southern Trifle (aka Blackberry & Peach)
Death by Chocolate Trifle