I’m hearing the same from so many people around here - “It doesn’t feel like Christmas.” I must admit I’m feeling a bit that way myself. Unseasonably cold, the rain, the gloomy. I suppose people who stick to the northern hemisphere Christmas traditions are pleased. A roast dinner is much more feasible when it’s not 40 degrees outside.
I’ve never been a big one for sticking to traditions just for the sake of it. Our family Christmas celebrations have morphed and changed over the years. When I was a little one, Christmas was all about my Oma. In Germany Weihnacht (literally Holy Night) is celebrated in the evening of December 24th. My brother Joe and I would be banished from the rumpus room out the back while Oma helped “the angels” set everything up for Christmas. We would lurk about outside, trying to catch a glimpse of them at work. When we were finally allowed in, the room was transformed into a magical wonderland. A big white tree loaded with ornaments and dripping with lametta, the clay nativity underneath, Christmas music playing, and presents everywhere! We were the only grandchildren, so I confess we were very spoiled, barely being able to wait for the singing of Stille Nacht to be over so we could rip in to our loot.
I was 17 when Oma died, and over the next few years Christmas changed, because doing the old traditions just didn’t seem right without her, the heart and soul of our Weihnacht. Now with a large blended family, we started the more Australian tradition of Christmas lunch. Christmas Day was noisy and fun, with up to seven twenty-somethings, descending on the parental home in varying states of disrepair from Christmas Eve partying. I remember one year I crashed at Joe’s place as we’d headed home from town together, and we walked across two suburbs together the next morning to get to Christmas lunch, hung over as all get out, joking about our plight.
Sadly our blended family didn’t go the distance, and Christmas changed again. My little family went back to celebrating on Christmas Eve. Just the three of us now, but bolstered in numbers by our partners and children. It wasn’t the same as the old days of Weihnacht, but we created our own traditions again. Joe and I taking turns to host, and having fun coming up with different ideas for food. I’m afraid I was always outdone by my big brother, who even turned tacos into a gourmet feast.
This year we have to face change again, and it is the biggest and hardest one of my life. I lost my brother in September. Too suddenly. Too soon. A wonderful husband, father and son. Loved so much by his brother-in-law and niece and nephew too. I’ve been too lost to write about it until now. It will be my first Christmas without him – a big Joe-sized hole in my heart. The rain and cold feels right this year – because “it doesn’t feel like Christmas” anyway.
But now after remembering these Christmases with Joe, I think back to my Oma. She was a world away from her homeland, having left her entire family behind, and it probably never felt quite right to her either. Yet she put so much love into Christmas for the sake of her two beloved grandchildren. So I will continue to create new traditions and keep some of the old for my family – my husband and children, my sister-in-law, niece and nephew and my Dad. We have each other to lean on gently now when times are so tough, and to face this big change together.