The song is true:
“It’s the most wonderful time, of the year.”
Christmas. The holidays. Winter break.
What a glorious few weeks spent with family, friends, food.
When our family immigrated to America from Poland back in December of 1981, my parents gave my sister and I the most amazing gift (besides a chance at a happy and communist-free life): they made sure to keep our most blessed and precious traditions and rituals intact, creating a tiny Polish Village inside whatever house we were living in at the time. Each apartment, rental house, and eventually the house on the hill were filled with the most important aspects of our life back in Poland. Our Catholic roots were respected and celebrated, even though as children we did not always appreciate the elaborate lengths we all went to before we ate our Christmas Eve meal, or the midnight masses when we had to leave our new Barbie and the Rocker that Santa had left for us behind in the car. Sometimes, my sister and I just wanted to be American.
Now, at 31, I cannot imagine life without these memories and continued traditions. Even the fish jello, (i know, i know) is welcomed with opened arms when it makes it’s way onto our Christmas Eve table. We come adorned with jewelry, ties, our Sunday best. We meet at our large table, overflowing with dishes reserved for the most holy of nights, and break host with our family and friends, wishing each other the very best for the coming year. There are often tears as we remember the trials and tribulations of the past year, and this year, after our beloved Babcia’s stroke, we were careful to breathe in every second with her, taking more pictures than usual, exchanging silent glances with our mother, who tried to come to terms with the idea that there may not be many more Christmas Eves left for her mom.
Superman and Monchichi went searching for the North Star, a gesture symbolic of the star that guided everyone to little baby Jesus’s manger in Bethlehem. Upon their return, they find that Santa has come and left gifts under the tree. The shrieks are deafening and when they are finally able to open gifts it is a joy unlike any other. My sister and I recall how we would wiggle and squirm through dinner, barely able to hold it together until our parents finally finished chewing their food (what is it with adults chewing so slowly, anyway?) and we were given the green light to open our presents! Oh Lord! Do you remember that feeling when you ripped away the wrapping paper and underneath it was exactly what you had asked for? There was the year of the Barbie, and the Nintendo (the very first one!). There was the Geometrics 5-in-1 curling iron, Super Mario Bros. 3, and oh! my beloved cherry-red ten-hole Doc Martens, the real deal baby! I can still see myself screaming and jumping up and down, a rebellious sophomore in high school, caught up in the magic of Christmas (shhhh, don’t tell anyone).
And when I was sitting at our Christmas Eve dinner this year, sipping our traditional kompot (a hot beverage made from fruit and spices) I marveled at how I was immediately transported back through time, my tast buds taking me on journey through the decades (yikes!) of Christmas Eve dinners that I have been blessed to be a part of. How rich our traditions are, that with one sip of a drink I am ten again, surrounded by loved ones and the spirit of Christmas. If I can give my own children at least half of that, I will know I have succeded as a parent. Even the last minute bickering, when everyone is hungry and we are still waiting on my dad to finish frying up the last of the catfish, even that is welcomed because it is inevitable every year and it just wouldn’t be the same without it.
And when I am sitting across from my parents, the two people who molded and influenced me like no one else would or could, I am at once filled with a gratitude and love that cannot be measured or described by words. It is a feeling that I want to bottle up and savor, especially when we are butting heads about parenting or lifestyle choices. Because they have done this. They have given me these sweet memories that I now, along with my American born and bred husband (who has not only adopted our kooky Polish ways but has introduced our family to the tradition of “stockings” which we all LOVE) pass on to our own little boys, hoping that one day, when they sip their own cup of kompot they are transported to some of the happiest times of their lives.
Thank you Mama i Tata. You are priceless and you are loved.