For the Week of December 13, 2015: Holiday Memories

little tree

little silent Christmas tree

you are so little…


look      the spangles

that sleep all the year in a dark box

dreaming of being taken out and allowed to shine,

the balls the chains red and gold the fluffy threads,


put up your little arms

and i’ll give them all to you to hold

every finger shall have its ring

and there won’t be a single place dark or unhappy


then when you’re quite dressed

you’ll stand in the window for everyone to see…


and looking up at our beautiful tree

we’ll dance and sing

“Noel Noel”

(From:  [little tree] by e.e. cummings.  In:   100 Selected Poems by e. e. cummings. © 1959.)

We returned from Japan late on Wednesday night, and since, have been re-adjusting to the time difference, our minds and bodies sluggish by day, alert by night.  Yesterday we ventured out to run errands, which necessitated exposing ourselves to the crowded markets and malls—never a welcome activity in the midst of the holiday season.  We didn’t shop for much.  This year our family will again be spread out over three countries, my daughters and husbands creating their holiday traditions and memories for their children as we once did for them.

We have dispensed with our traditional large Christmas tree and opted for a “junior” version, just three feet tall, to be placed in the front window. We’ve already begun passing along some of the Christmas tree ornaments we’ve collected every year with both daughters, hoping that the forty-plus years of stories retained in each will be remembered, shared and laughed about together with their children.  Some of those decorations remain here, since my sentimental nature prohibits me from abandoning old traditions all at once, even if John and I will greet Christmas morning without the excitement and clamor of excited children.

I suspect I’ll linger over the papier-mâché gingerbread boy, now with only one eye and a piece of his hand torn off, hung on my parents’ tree when I was a child or the hand painted Santa that began our tradition, given to my oldest daughter by her grandmother when she was just three months old.  There’s a small felt Christmas tree, decorated with glitter and the traces of rows of brightly colored “Smarties,” the Canadian equivalent to “M & Ms,” her sister made in first grade.  The candy melted long ago or perhaps was eaten by the ornament maker.  A painted ballerina made of dough, baked and glazed, is missing her pink slippers. We discovered our dog, Max, quietly nibbling them off one Christmas when we were living in Toronto.  It’s one of my favorites and occupies a central place on the tree, despite her missing feet.  And there is the small framed photo of my father, taken just a week or two before he was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer.  His smile radiates from a place near the top of the tree.

It’s not only the ornaments on our tree that hold the memories of holidays past.  As we see colored lights strung on houses around the streets of San Diego, we remember how, as children, our fathers drove us through neighborhoods to see the array of lights and holiday decorations that adorned each house.

Though a potpourri

Of Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Jews, and Sikhs,

We all are conscious of the time of year;

We all enjoy its colorful displays

And keep some festival that mitigates

The dwindling warmth and compass of the days…

(From:  “Toward the Winter Solstice,” by Timothy Steele; In:  Toward the Winter Solstice, 2006))

There are memories in the traditional holiday dishes and cookies baked or given as gifts.  Our neighbor brings us a loaf of hot gingerbread each year, and the scent alone will transport me back to my grandmother’s kitchen.  I’ve made my mother-in-law’s broccoli soufflé nearly every Christmas since I was a new bride, the recipe copied on a stained 3 x 5 inch index card.  I no longer bake Christmas cookies.  That task was eagerly assumed by my daughters when they were in elementary school and have all but disappeared from my repertoire.

This year will be only the second time since my husband and I wed that we’ve not celebrated the holidays with one or both of our daughters.  History repeats itself I suppose, because I remember how we, living far from our parents, celebrated our first lonely Christmas in Canada decades ago.  As our daughters were born, our traditions were born, ones I recall fondly every holiday season.  A wealth of stories exists in those memories, and again, they will likely be told and re-told, just as we tend to do every year.

Writing Suggestion:

As you prepare for your holiday season, what family traditions do you cherish and keep alive?  What stories get told and retold?  The holidays can also trigger emotions as we remember people and past holiday events.  Write about the holidays—the rituals, traditions and preparations you practice, the stories you recall each year.

About Sharon A. Bray, EdD

Best known for her innovative work with cancer patients and survivors, Sharon is a writer, educator and author of two books on the benefits of expressive writing during cancer as well as personal essays, a children's book, magazine articles and the occasional poetry. She designed and initiated expressive writing programs at several major cancer centers, including Breast Cancer Connections, Stanford Cancer Center, Scripps Green Cancer Center and Moores UCSD Cancer Center. She continues to lead expressive writing groups for men and women living in the San Diego area and teach creative writing workshops and classes privately for UCLA extension Writers' Program. She previously taught professional development courses in therapeutic writing at Santa Clara University and the Pacific School of Religion, was a faculty member of the CURE Magazine Forums and at the Omega Institute in 2014. Sharon earned her doctorate from the University of Toronto and studied creative and transformative writing at Humber School for Writers, University of Washington, and Goddard College.
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