Before the new year begins I thought I would take a few days away from art and write about a family Christmas as close to the North Pole as my family goes. That turns out to be Traverse City, Michigan where my older son Danny lives. In the summer, it is known as the Cherry Capital, much of the rest of the year I would call it the Snow Capital! It is right on Lake Michigan and is a popular resort town where many celebrities have summer homes and the film maker Michael Moore lives full time. It is extremely well known in the nearby states and much less so in the rest of the country.
Danny invited all the family for Christmas and all accepted. We flew from Santa Fe, my younger son from Los Angeles, my daughter with husband and 2 sons from Philadelphia and my older children's mother and husband from New York. Add to that Danny's son and daughter, his girlfriend and her two daughters and her parents and it was a typical American family amalgam of 17 for Christmas dinner.
But as you all know the holiday really begins on Christmas Eve and this was no exception. We spent it not on the outskirts of Traverse City where one house is next to the other but 15 minutes away in rolling hills where the houses are further apart and, of course, the snow is deeper. This was at Danny's girlfriend's home. The Christmas tree in the window with the snow behind was magical.
Her family has a tradition of small bites on Christmas Eve to which all contributed. My 14 year old grandson, Aidan, is turning into quite the chef and contributed a delicious pulled pork worthy of Corky's in Memphis, Tennessee. There were meatballs, shrimp, cheese, home-made sweets, a fabulous smorgasbord of flavors.
Christmas morning at Danny’s started at 7a.m. with stocking opening by those 15 and under which we did not attend but we did join in for the gift giving. I have never seen so many wrapped presents under a tree before. For an idea of how many gifts were given just multiply one from each to each and multiply by 17... Well, thankfully it wasn't quite that extreme.
After an informal lox and bagel lunch, a tradition that, I believe came more from the Jewish side of the family, we had some much needed exercise, a long walk for some while others went for a swim, making room for a huge brisket and turkey dinner.
Where does the gift giving tradition come from? The obvious answer for Christmas is the three Kings bringing gifts to the Christ Child, but we can be quite sure the tradition started long before that. Almost every culture and religion has occasions on which to make gifts. Think about how many holidays you might give a gift and sometimes you just do it to make someone happy, like bringing flowers home for your significant other. And think of how disappointed we are if we perceive that the recipient, no matter his/her age, is not pleased with the gift. The act of giving is a human instinct that we find necessary in order to feel fulfilled.
The strain of having a group of people together, with even more at stake if it is family, is naturally exhausting, especially for the hosts who make this all happen. Why do we do this to ourselves once or twice a year? Because it is not only the way we bond and keep in touch with family but also get to meet and mingle with those who have joined the greater family recently. With an infinite number of variations this tradition exists throughout the world and is usually focused on the winter solstice.
With all best wishes for a happy, healthy and prosperous 2013 !