Those of you who follow this blog may remember that I posted a Christmas story last year called “Other People’s Rituals,” which first appeared in the December 1978 issue of McCall’s Magazine. In it, I described a wife and mother whose husband drives them from North Carolina to New Hampshire every Christmas. The wife, Kate, feels that her contributions to the holiday are lost amid the gathering at her sister-in-law’s house, and she regrets that her four children’s memories of Christmas will have little to do with her. On the long drive north, she learns for the first time just how much her make-do rituals have meant to her children.
When the story was first published, I received many nice letters and several of you wrote me when I posted it last year. It was immensely gratifying to learn that it touched so many people. This past week, I received a letter that delighted me all over again. The writer has given me permission to share her story with you. (I have edited for length and to maintain her privacy. Otherwise, the words are all hers.)
I just re-read a short story you wrote for McCall's magazine December 1978 issue called "Other People's Rituals". I have a photo copy of the original because the magazine pages got so worn and fragile over the years. I want you to know that I keep this story in a special place and bring it out every Christmas to read (several times during the holiday!). When I first read it I was not married, had no children and had never spent Christmas anywhere but home with my parents and older brother and sister. However, for some reason the story really touched me. It still brings a lump to my throat when Kate realizes how much her contributions are tied to everyone's memories.
Now, some 31 years later I can relate in some way to Kate. I married, had two children and am now divorced, but along the way I found rituals of my own that I felt didn't matter. Years ago I started a Victorian Christmas village with a church, a general store, a candy store and a house. Since that time the village has grown to 28 buildings and countless accessories along the way. Enough to take up the space of two 6' tables along the back wall in our living room! I had made up my mind that this year I just didn't have the energy or interest in putting it up, even though my two kids [now college age] always pitched in to help. I really didn't think it was that big a deal. We-l-l, was I wrong!! We usually hauled the boxes up from the basement the Saturday after Thanksgiving and spent most of the day building our little village. When I announced during Thanksgiving dinner that I thought we'd skip it this year you could have heard a pin drop. Both kids joined in to let me know that the village was going up "or else". We spent Saturday putting up the village and each piece evoked memories of the year we got it. My son's girlfriend joined in the fun and I couldn't believe how many details of past years he remembered and related to her. My daughter reminded me that I promised her she could have the barn because I had dragged her all over town hunting for one when she was six. Hearing them, I felt like Kate in your story. My little village that I thought meant something only to me was just as important to my children. As a joke I told them to mark the pieces they wanted and someday, when they had their own homes, their choices could start their own villages. They immediately scattered to find a marker!! Oddly they chose different pieces and accessories based on their own memories. Only occasionally did I have to step in with a coin toss! Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that after all these years your story still means a lot to me and I have come to realize my rituals mean something to other people too.
What family rituals make your own holiday celebration uniquely yours? I would love to hear from you and will print as many as I can next week. (Click the contact button above.)