The week before Christmas, I left work around noon to send a package to my sister's family in Ohio. I'd forgotten to bring her address with me, so I had to call her to get it. Our parents had flown in just a few hours ago for their visit to my sister's five kids. But she couldn't talk because my dad had left his brand new camera on the plane and my sister was trying to figure out the number to call to track it down at the airport. Must have been pretty crazy - Christmastime crazy.
While driving back from the post office, I listened to MPR, which was rebroadcasting a speech by Ray Suarez to the local teacher's union in October. It was about immigration and the "next America," which is the subject of a book he is currently writing. It was early in the speech, and he was recalling the past to give context to the current situation. Suarez had done his homework and had some information specific to Minnesota. In the 1896 election, 40% of Minnesotans were foreign-born. The election materials were printed in 8 to 10 languages. He noted the historical irony that many of these voters' grandchildren are currently insisting on designating English as the official (only) language. The intro to the speech had cited an earlier Suarez book, titled "The Old Neighborhood: What We Lost in the Great Suburban Migration," so as I got out of the car and walked to my desk, I was thinking along a common line about how out of whack the 50's were with the rest of America's history. WWII had spawned so many vast changes that were necessarily balanced by creating an instant golden age, made from whole cloth, that actually had little in common with anything before or after it.
Then, lo and behold, "Christmas nostalgia for the family we never were" from UU World magazine's website became my lunchtime reading. A taste:
Today, even going home for the holidays will not cure Christmas nostalgia because the old family — even if it still survives and can be reassembled — never was the family that Christmas tradition idealizes.But don't worry, it is a Christmas story, so it has a happy, but realistic, ending. So go read it.
I know mine wasn’t. Growing up, I never rode in a one-horse open sleigh or saw visions of sugarplums dance in my head. We had gas heat instead of a fireplace, so we never sang carols around a Yule log or roasted chestnuts over an open fire. I never carried my father’s ax while he dragged a freshly chopped evergreen home through the snowy fields.*
All those memories are in my head, but they’re not mine. I don’t know who they once belonged to.
The rest of the story fits my family fairly well. We'll have a small Christmas Eve and Day, five people, at our house. However, we still have a tenuous connection to the nostalgic on my mom's side of the family - we go to my uncle's farm around the holiday with my two aunts. He even cuts down his own evergreen tree each year, but always before we get there, so that's not a memory either.
[End draft] I'm not sure I had more to say, but I'm choosing to remember that like a good sermon, I circled around and brought it home to the package story, expressing a grain of insight in a subtle but profound way. Yeah, that's what I remember.
* Note that all of these are pagan practices. Take that, Garrison Keillor!