Traditions and memories
The earliest Christmas tradition I remember in our family was the pilgrimage to my mother’s parents’ house on Christmas Eve.
My grandmother, Pashia Tunnell Luster Duckett, gave birth to three daughters, Blanche, Kathleen, and Ruby. Their father, Roy Luster, died at the age of 26 of a fever that would have easily been cured by antibiotics a few years later. Later, Grandma met Charles Daniel Duckett who became her husband, the stepfather of the three girls, and my grandpa.
Blanche married Ray Flynn and they had a son, Danny. Kathleen, my mother, married William E. Epps, Jr., (Bill to his friends, Junior to his family), and gave birth to me and to my brother, Wayne. Ruby married John Honeycutt, and had three children, Johnny, Pashie, and Jeff.
Christmas Eve found us all gathered at Grandpa and Grandma’s house for as long as I can remember — at least until I began my own family. Somehow, the men always hung around together, the women worked in the kitchen and talked, and the kids played in the backyard if the weather was good or in the house if it was bad.
The highlight of the evening was the meal — which can only be called a sumptuous feast — and every one ate until there was no room for anything more. Except dessert. Later in the evening, gifts were exchanged and we all went home to await the next morning.
The next earliest tradition was, of course, Christmas morning. I was always awake long before my mother or dad came to get me. Getting up on my own was strictly forbidden on Christmas morning.
Until I was almost 9 years old, I was an only child. I remember trying to stay awake so that I could hear Santa creep down the chimney but I never managed it. And then the quiet knock on the door and off I ran to the brilliantly lighted and decorated tree in our living room.
For most of my young life, I never realized that our family struggled financially. Dad was laid off from a local plant and, when I was 8 and 9 years old, was without a regular job for nearly two years. How, in the days before unemployment benefits and safety nets, they managed to put together a Christmas that made me feel like I was the luckiest boy in the world is still beyond me. They never took credit for the multitude of presents under the tree. Santa was always the gift-bringer.
Later, when Wayne came along, the number of presents doubled. Whether they saved their pennies all year or it was the second job Dad sometimes took, I don’t know. I just know that on Christmas morning it felt like our family was rich.
Now, my traditions are different. My grandparents are gone, as are my parents. My three sons, who have sons and daughters of their own, have their own ways of celebrating, as they should.
On Christmas Eve, my wife and I attend the services at our church. Depending on whether it is the 6 p.m. or the 9 p.m. service, there are the carols, the Christmas scriptures, prayers, a visit from Saint Nicholas, Bishop of Myra (the real Saint Nick) who bears gifts for each child present, the lighting of candles, a Christmas sermon, and, always, Holy Communion.
As the pastor, I attend both services, so I get to experience it all!
On Christmas morning, we sleep late — well, later than usual, anyway. Then, the sons and their families who live near (my youngest son lives in New Mexico, the other two in Senoia) come to our house (a.k.a. Papa and Granny’s house), for presents and a big Christmas breakfast — no matter what time of the day it is.
The two indoor cats that allow us to live in the house will scatter as the grandchildren invade the space and head for the tree where gifts await. After a full day of laughter, love, and family, the house is quiet again.
I will usually end the day by going to the basement to enjoy the downstairs Christmas tree, the warm fire in the fireplace, the lights turned off, and a good feeling in my heart.
Sometimes, I will watch TV, at other times I will read a book, and occasionally I will just sit and reflect on the day’s events and reminisce about Christmases long past.
For me, the Christmas season is over all too soon. So, I try to embrace it while I can and squeeze every moment out of it. Soon, all that will remain will be the memories. And, strangely, that will be sufficient.
At least until next year — where the memory-making will start all over again.
[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA (www.ctkcec.org) . He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.]