Posted by Jeanne Munn Bracken
I got stuck in snowbanks three times last week, but hey! We had a White Christmas! Being a nostalgic time of year, Christmas reminds us of earlier times--happier or not. Christmas, it seems to me, comes in phases.
Phase I: Parents and their children sitting near the tree. I think our Christmases in upstate New York might have been happier; or maybe I was just younger and didn't understand that sadness seeped into Christmas. When I was in high school and we moved to rural New Hampshire, I started to feel the sadness, too. My stepfather drank even more there, although moving to a "dry town" seemed like a good idea. I remember one year going home for Christmas from college and seeing a sad tree my mom and young brother had gotten from the woods, the spindly tree's branches filled out some by spare branches drilled into the trunk. A patchwork Tannenbaum. How unusual.
Phase II: After I married, my husband and I spent our holidays with my family. Since his parents and other relatives lived 2000 miles away, we were spared the "his or my" family thing.
Phase III: Our daughters came along and we celebrated some Christmases with my mother (by then divorced) before (Phase IV) deciding to begin our own customs and traditions at our own home, followed a week or so later by a huge family Christmas, usually at my sister's.
This year has begun Phase V. My husband, our daughters and I slept late, then emptied stockings and opened gifts before my younger daughter made a herbed pork tenderloin from a recipe she'd seen on the Food Network. The extended family had agreed last year that the whole Family Christmas event was a lot of work, expensive, hard to schedule, and always had us holding our breath over New England's notorious winter weather. Phase V for some of our empty-nester friends means again finding new traditions to fill the emptinesses where now-scattered children and grandchildren once romped. I jokingly gripe that my daughters (now 25 and 31) will never leave home, but I know I'm lying and that Christmases like this one will soon be mere memories. Grandchildren would be nice, but none are on even the distant horizon. Meanwhile, we watch the very funny Christmas movie "The Ref" DVD while wrapping presents.
What we, as writers, do to celebrate the holidays is write, Leann wrote about Christmas past. I write about Christmas never. I have three Christmas picture books that I have not been able to sell. One is about a Northern child forced to spend the holidays in the South. The second is similar but teaches about the Latino celebration "Las Posadas", with a pageant of people going from door to door seeking a room for the Christ Child. The third tale is a modernized version of our family story about my widowed great-great -grandmother and how she did the best she could for her children at Christmas by making a doll out of scraps and a toy she found in the garbage. I had done something similar in the year when Cabbage Patch dolls were on every little girl's list but no merchant shelves. The dolls I made still sit on my daughters' beds, their store-bought ones long forgotten.
The talented and prolific children's writer Bruce Coville, speaking at a conference earlier this year, said that people write for children for one of two reasons: either to remember and celebrate a happy childhood or to reinvent a sad one. I expect I am combining both.