This Christmas, Brian and I are relaxing at home listening to "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens. It has been a quiet holiday so far - last night we went to the midnight service at Central Presbyterian downtown. This morning, we went to First CRC for the Christmas morning service, sang "Ere Zij God", and came home. I napped, went for a walk with Brian and Izzy, and relaxed in the livingroom by the fire while Brian cooked the Christmas Duck for dinner.
So many of my Christmas Pasts were so much busier. My Christmas Eve days were often spent in the car or van making the long trip from Belleville to Chatham, while my Christmas Eves were enjoyed at Grandma and Grandpa's apartment in the retirement home. Grandma got shorter every year we went to visit her. They had an air purifier near the front door that blew out strange smelling air. Grandma made fantastic apple sauce, but her tuna caserole often left a little to be desired (for a non-fish lover, at least). She always had smarties and rosettes on a silver tray on the coffee table. The old-school exercise bike in their bedroom was entertainment for hours. Grandma and Grandpa always had suspiciously similar wrapping paper as mom and dad. One year, Grandma gave me an awesome puppet in a cone. Marya later broke it in the car before we even got through Toronto. We spent hours every Christmas eve running down the halls of their apartment building, rubbing our slippers on the carpets and shocking eachother. I spent many Christmas eves sleeping at their apartment on the pull out couch (that now resides in my mom's basement), listening to Grandma and Grandpa do devotions and quietly talk in the kitchen in Dutch. Marya and I or David and I would pretend to be asleep until they retired to their room, and then we'd talk and giggle for hours in the quiet dark livingroom where the only other sound was the clock on the wall.
If I spent the night at Grandma's, we'd get up in the morning and eat breakfast and then, after putting on a special Christmas dress, all walk to church together. We would inevitably bump into aunts, uncles and cousins at church.
If I spent the night at Aunt Joanne's, we'd all find our various places - sometimes we'd all 6 of us sleep in the basement - one or two in Brian's room, one on the cot beside the pool table, and a few of us on the floor in the area normally decked with old school desks, comic books and a freakish stuffed clown. Sometimes we'd sleep upstairs - mom and dad would sleep in cousin Julie's room and I would sleep in the walk-in closet - a room just my size! Aunt Joanne often had a few presents for us, which was VERY exciting! One year I got a book about Little Bear, and one year I got a book about a young girl who travelled out west in the wagon trains with her family and pet hen. We always got to have brown sugar on our cereal at Aunt Joanne's. They had so many awesome toys in the hallway cupboard.
If I spent the night at Aunty Anne's, sometimes I'd sleep in the front room with Marya or David. The sheets on the beds had line drawings of stick figures literally laughing their heads off - their heads were defintely not attached to their heads. That was always an iffy room to sleep in - there was a door to the stairs to the attic in that room, and you never know what could be in the attic that might want to come down, or what isn't in the attic that might want to go up. Sometimes I'd sleep in cousin Karen's room - since it had a double bed I'd have to share the bed with someone else, but it was a very cozy room to sleep in. Often I'd sleep in the pool table room with one or more of the siblings and there were many, many dubious shadows in the room. The fabulous thing about sleeping at Aunty Anne's house was that she used to have a whole store selection of cereal for breakfast! (Cereal has played a very important role in my life, in case you can't tell.... :)
The best thing about being in Chatham for Christmas was the big family dinner that we would have: the Van Bredas, the DeVrieses, and the Dielemans (the Brouwer sisters and their families). So many people. So much good food. Fun games. Good singing. Noise. Talking. Laughing. Busyness. Good times.
I always thought that Christmas would be a very busy time once I got married. But, we no longer do the Brouwer sisters Christmas dinners and Grandma and Grandpa are both gone, so we no longer go to Chatham. We have no Christmas obligations on Brian's side of the family, and we just get together for my immediate family celebration. Sometimes I miss the three different gatherings (my family, Grandma & Grandpa, Aunts). But it's also nice to have some breathing room and catch up on much needed sleep.
However, every Christmas I do have those pangs in my heart to visit Chatham and the people there that I love. So many favourite memories in my life happened there.