Philip Brooks, author of "Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem", wrote another poem that is pertinent to us who've spent some of our lives flitting around the globe. "Everywhere, everywhere Christmas tonight! Christmas in lands of the fir tree and pine. Christmas in lands of the palm tree and vine." Christmas is to be celebrated wherever we find ourselves. Yes, we all enjoy familiar trappings, but none are really necessary.
Family customs are meaningful. Our family lights the candles and sings carols around the tree. Also on the tree are a wide variety of ornaments - crude plaster of paris ones made by two years olds, "Gods' eyes" done by grade-schoolers, a glass Santa I had as a child, two tree-candle holders which were my parents'nearly 100 years ago and new ones purchased in the Czech Republic, three of the annual White House ornaments and other elegant pieces which were gifts from friends, cross-stitched personalized ones made by a daughter, bits and pieces used on the farm tree in Africa.
Many people, even my own family, think one verse of a carol is sufficient, whereas I feel every verse should be sung. We compromise. What's important is getting just as many of those carols as possible into children's minds, where words and music can simmer and bring them to celebration. "There's a song in the air, There's a star in the sky, There's a mother's deep prayer and a baby's low cry..."
(editor's note: what my mother fails to mention is that while we are singing, there are candles burning on the tree. we want to get through these carols before the tree is alight)
My husband and I ate oyster stew for a meager supper before the tree, while the children had Campbell's chicken dumpling soup. We all liked little round oyster crackers. I don't bother searching for those things here, but we stick to our tradition of a meager supper. I did do the carp route - once - shivering in line, bringing carp home to the bathtub, husband slaying it, me breading and frying it. I'm glad to have had the experience. [After tree and gifts we eat cookies and chocolates.]
Some of our traditions came about because family members are hither and yon.
Christmas parcels include some stocking gifts. Members not with us delegate their carol choices. The telephone rings either after we've opened gifts on Christmas eve or on the next afternoon. Twice a daughter was given a free conference call - this is quite a funny occurrence, with everyone, or no one, talking.
A separate decoration box holds angels and stars for the chapel tree. If we're really lucky one of our priest friends will have some free time during Christmas week to say mass and eat a meal with us. Otherwise we just go to the town church for the 5 p.m. "midnight" mass. I've tried the "real" midnight mass in the nearby monastery - lovely, but I fell asleep more than I was awake.
Our adult children, hither and yon, with their families and friends are developing their own special traditions, but they like knowing almost exactly what we at the Zamek are doing on Christmas. All of them find great joy in the celebrations; I wish the same for you and yours this season.