When I was growing up, Christmas was a really welcome event as it followed Advent, which, in our Irish Catholic family, was a rough four weeks of a lot of prayers and preparation. I never followed the through line of Advent other than one of my brothers had created the Advent candle holder in his welding class and while it really was so ugly, my mother set it out on the table like it was Swarovski crystal. Being the bottom of 11, there was never a Christmas in my life that wasn’t populated by huge hordes of Doyle’s. I was knee-deep in the second generation, and the sole bridge between the immediate family and their offspring. So, inevitably, as my brothers procreated ad nauseam, my poor mother might have 37 or so people for a sit-down dinner.
There was always some crazy thing that happened at the last-minute as the clock struck 6 pm on the 25th, as in a few cops showing up (my brother was a Vancouver policeman for 12 years) or an unexpected neighbour, or some new immigrants referred by Catholic Charities. No matter. My mother always just shrugged and said, “I’ll put another potato on”.
So, traditions, both spiritual and familial, were strongly observed and cherished around this holiday. One of my favourite traditions was the hanging of pictures of all 11 children sitting on Santa’s knee, which had been glued to a ribbon and cascaded down the foyer door. I never tired of looking up at all the faces, crying and smiling, and finding myself on the bottom of the door, in colour instead of black and white.
Then as time will do, our family grew older and my mother did too. When the house on West 11th sold, an era ended. And with it many of those traditions sadly. I gravitated after my mother passed away (and more traditions vanquished) to my German sister-in-law Moni Schiller, who observes, and heartily practices, strong German traditions blended with her own maniacal Christmas spirit. In her house, I found again the Christmas past, and have come here mostly every Christmas since.
While my waist grows as each Spitzbuebchen cookie is devoured, and late harvest wine poured, I sink into family time, pulling away from work and remembering, oh yeah, this is the important part, to take this moment and think of love, and traditions, some new, some old, of those you treasure and hold so dear.
And nestled there, in our hearts, are the gifts that really matter.
Ein frohes und besinnliches Weihnachtsfest!