Cambrian: Slice of Life

Mental stockings

We all know Christmas celebrations are for family and friends, home and church, fun, food and tradition.

But traditions morph. Families change. And where you’re “home for the holidays” isn’t always inside the same four walls. So we adapt and learn that new ways and new places can be exciting, different, challenging, intriguing and (often) better.

Along the way, we accumulate so many memories in our mental stockings.

In my childhood, Christmas always was at my grandmother Ganny’s house, a large semi-Tudor place on the outskirts of New York City.

In the most enduring tradition, on Christmas morning the large group would gather to open gifts in a one-person-at-a-time round robin, oldest to youngest. Everybody read out loud carefully crafted tags that often included a pun or play on words. The process seemed to go on forever, especially for a 5-year-old.

There was a groaning board of food, of course, and always the dilemma of which cookie to choose. Shall we start with Ganny’s ground-almond cookies, the nutmeg thins or my mom’s walnut chewies?

Christmas has to have carols and holiday songs, whether sung by hundreds in a majestic hall or warbled solo in the shower. There were annual treks to Radio City Music Hall to see the high-kicking Rockettes songfests together around the baby grand going caroling in the snow of New York and Wyoming (on horseback!) and (later) in the relative warmth of Cambria ... observing our granddaughters listen over and over (for days) to Straight No Chaser’s “Christmas Can-Can,” knowing I introduced them to it.

I cherish memories of community concerts and special Christmas programs. It’s wonderful to watch people you know sing songs you love. Thank you, Cambria Chorale (their final 2012 holiday concert is Sunday, Dec. 15, details below)!

But there are funny musical memories, too. I remember our overambitious high-school chorale teacher was convinced he could pull off the “Hallelujah Chorus” . A cappella with a girls’ choir.

If you know the challenging baroque piece by Handel, you know the soaring soprano voices are anchored by booming basses, baritones and tenors. Translation: Men.

Only five of us girls could read music. Fortunately, we had strong voices. To help the weak links in the entourage, the teacher had us skip around from part to part, adding volume and indicating pitch to the other singers. It took us quite a while to learn the routine.

Decades later, I still can’t sing that piece straight as a second soprano.

Fortunately, there were plenty of good singers in the Cambria audience Saturday night, Dec. 15, at the Santa Rosa Chapel’s “Strings at the Chapel” concert. Attendees did a nice sing-along of the Hallelujah. Applause!

And, I still can laugh a lot while watching other kids embellish the Hallelujah on (Just search for “silent monks Halleluia”). Genius!

Christmas cards? We stopped sending them out decades ago, during our bakery-owner era. But I do remember two cards I sent years before that.

One card had a sketch of Santa Claus holding a four-leaf clover, heart and flag. He was wearing bunny ears and a pilgrim hat, and was standing beside a jack o’lantern and a turkey.

Inside, the card said, “Happy holidays ... from the person you hear from once a year.”

Another time, when I was in the hospital during the holidays, I sent cards showing Santa with a hot-water bottle on his tummy, an icebag on his head, a bottle of aspirin in his hand and a thermometer in his mouth. Inside, the card said, “No well.”

We’ve kept many of Ganny’s rituals, always with lots of family and friends around. But, just as our sons’ Christmas lists changed from Hot Wheels to hot skateboards, from hot Atari games to hot cars and hot girls, eventually families grow up and start their own traditions in their own homes with their own offspring.

Despite the changes in how we celebrate, we always have a wonderful time. My mental holiday stocking is chock full. Fortunately, it’s expandable.

Memories. Tradition. Changes. They’re all part of the holiday season, with some upheaval added for spice.

But, as our daughter-in-love Kim said recently, “No matter where we are, we’ll have a wonderful time. Because we’ll all be together.”

Together. If you can make it happen, that’s the best tradition of all.

NOTE: Cambria Chorale’s final 2012 Christmas concert is at 3 p.m. Sunday Dec. 16 at the Cambria Presbyterian Church, 2250 Yorkshire Drive. Tickets, $15, are at Chamber of Commerce, 787 Main St.; Joslyn Recreation Center, 950 Main St.; and at the door. 927-2989.