Brand building through storytelling

Marrying into the family Christmas

I had never seen or heard of Christmas crackers until they showed up at my almost in-laws’ table nearly 40 years ago.

Where I came from, crackers were Triscuits topped with various cunning garnishes and passed around to guests with dry sherry while while Vivaldi attested to my parents’ taste and standards. These so-called Christmas crackers looked like favours from a six-year-old’s birthday party–cardboard cylinders, the size of a toilet-paper roll, from which you pulled a tissue-paper crown. Then, with cracker in hand and crown atop your head, you crossed arms, linked crackers with the revellers on either side and gave a good hard yank. Out spilled the bounty: a fortune for each of us, and the kind of toy that came in cereal boxes.

At 20, I thought I was above such stuff. How could I have fallen for a guy who wore a tissue-paper paper crown at Christmas?

In that first tentative phase of couplehood, every day seemed a contest between my way with domestic matters and the perplexing deviations of the man who shared my fridge, my bathroom and my sliver of a closet (the bed was the one easy part). On top of all the everyday conundrums, we now had to negotiate Christmas. I had always assumed there was one right way to orchestrate seasonal cheer—the Maynard family’s. I didn’t understand that in order to live like a grownup, I would have to break free of the cherished yet constricting Maynard family Christmas.

We Maynards did not so much celebrate Christmas as stage it. We always had the Carmen Miranda of trees, every fragrant branch encrusted with glitter. It stood guard over a cascade of gifts (you’d think there were at least five kids in this household instead of just two). Our turkey was never frozen, our mince pie never bought at A&P. Our cookie jars brimmed with homemade treats that my mother never gave away lest she deprive her own family of a single buttery mouthful. At the time this never struck me as odd.

We owned one Christmas record, carols sung a capella by a full-throated ensemble whom I used to picture tripping through a snowfall in top hats and bonnets. To me the Randolph Singers were the only conceivable soundtrack for Christmas morning, and the only member of the family who could start it was my father, the wizard of our personal Oz. On Christmas morning my sister and I would hover at the top of the stairs, listening for the opening strains of  “We weesh you a merry Chreestmahss” (that’s how the Randolphs pronounced it). Every detail of the day underscored the panache, the exuberance and the joyous traditionalism of the Maynards as compared to lesser families. No one ever joined us for Christmas dinner (another oddness I didn’t question). It was as if a Broadway production were performed for the sole benefit of the cast.

Even after I left home for college, I looked forward with a primal longing to the Maynard Christmas. My husband, whom I met at 20 and married at 21, couldn’t share my delight in Maynard rituals. Just by arriving on the scene, he stripped away my seasonal illusions. The first year he came for Christmas was the year my parents fought at the dinner table—unheard-of in our house. No sooner had my mother carved the turkey than she fled the room in tears while my father eyed his plate with sullen defiance. He was drunk—again. His alcoholism—silently tolerated, never discussed–was tightening its grip on us all.

I should have realized things would never be the same. Yet I was stunned when my parents split up, leaving my sister and me to divide the Christmas ornaments (I let her take the Randolph Singers). Our mother returned to her Jewish roots; our father went his way. So much for the Maynard family Christmas. It had all the staying power of a naked fir, left by the side of the road on its own fallen needles. Like it or not, I would be celebrating Christmas with the Joneses.

Last weekend three generations of the clan filled my sister-in-law’s house—all 25 of us in one place for the first Christmas gathering since who knows when. Some of us travel the world, one of us lis living overseas, quite a few have other seasonal festivities and potentially treacherous roads to navigate, yet there we all were with our plates balanced on our laps, just glad to be together. We had no Christmas crackers, no brussels sprouts, no potatoes roasted in dripping or plum pudding with custard sauce. In my mother-in-law’s day, such omissions were undreamed-of. We do Christmas differently now, with my sisters-in-law at the helm, and soon enough the next generation will add take over. This is how Christmas should be, a joint creation in constant flux.

Heading home with my husband in the starry dark, I realized that I’ve now spent more Christmases with the Jones family than I ever did with the Maynards. Thank goodness. The real measure of any family’s Christmas is the welcome it extends, and this family–now mine–has gracefully made room for spouses past and present, as well as children who are starting to have children themselves. Next Christmas we’ll have two new babies, one my second grandson. It’s going to be another great day.

I often write about married life. Click here to read an earlier post. 

 

Posted by Rona



Previously posted comments:

Comment
Robert C. Bruce
December 23, 2008 at 11:11AM

Hi,
In reading the above you have touched a deep place in my heart. And when I tell my siblings about this find (isn`t the internet great?) they`ll probably cry and/or laugh about your description of your Christmas and the integral part the Randolph Singers played in the mood of it. I was looking for a good copy of the album or a download of the music. I do have my father`s copy. For, most assuredly, it was my father`s copy. He would lovingly blow the dust off it before placing it on our “new” Hi-Fi turntable some 54 years ago, the first time. I was 10, my sisters 8 and 6, and my brother 2. We howled in laughter and made fun of it, for we had never heard “real” music before. What an impression it made. I made copies of this gem of an album before my parents died a few years ago and I don`t consider it Christmas without playing it several times during the season or hoisting a glass of Black Velvet (if you can stand it a Guinness and champagne mix) in a silver goblet. My sister has the goblets but I have the album, albeit scratched and skipping. I will be buying your book the next time out or online to share with my brother and sisters. It`s nice to know there are others who share the same feelings we have in this great Christmas music. Thanks, Bob Bruce

Reply
Rona Maynard
December 23, 2008 at 11:11 AM

Funny thing, Bob. All these years I thought that surely only my sister and I associated Christmas with any recording so obscure as that Randolph Singers LP. I figured everyone else was listening to “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Your comment reminds me that there’s nothing so odd or obscure in any family’s story that it cannot resonate with other families. How about I trade you a copy of My Mother’s Daughter for the Randolph Singers?

Comment
Robert C. Bruce
December 23, 2008 at 12:12PM

Hi,
WOW, that was a quick reply. I just placed an order with Amazon for 2 copies for my sisters. I`ll look through my stuff in the basement again to find it. I`ll make you a cassette tape if that`ll do? I`ve moved here recently and things are still out of sorts. I`ve been looking for my taped copy because it just isn`t Christmas without it. And it gives me goosebumps to think there are kindred spirits out there ,as you say, listening to an obscure piece of music such as that and resonating so. My father was Canadian (we still have a place north of Ottawa on a lake near Maniwaki, Quebec) and my Mother was pure spanish from Florida and both had drinking issues. If I were so eloquent as you I`d have a tail to put down on paper. Just ask my shrinks. I`m anxious to read your book myself. My sisters are going to appreciate your book. I can`t wait to pass it along. I would love to trade a copy for a copy but first let me make sure I can find my copy then we can share addresses. OK? Bob

Reply
Rona Maynard
December 23, 2008 at 12:12 PM

It’s a deal!

Comment
Robert C. Bruce
December 23, 2008 at 12:12PM

Hi,
I found it. There is one side which encompasses the Randolph Singers and the other is the Robert Shaw Chorale also singing Christmas Music. I`m off to my sister`s for Christmas Eve and Christmas and if I had your address I could possibly send it tommorrow. My address is Robert C. Bruce 17 Cooke St. Fairhaven, MA 02719

Comment
Robert C. Bruce
December 23, 2008 at 4:04PM

OK I`m listening to it now and will copy it. Send me your address and I`ll get it to you ASAP. Bob

Comment
Marion Roach Smith
December 26, 2008 at 4:04AM

Your piquant tale of combining holiday traditions is surely some of the best marriage advice any of us could get: wait and see, and you might ride home on a starry night, well into a marriage, not only fed, but nourished with expectation for next year’s gathering. So much better than the myths we make and try not to shed, this is the perfect holiday recipe for success. Thank you. I love this.

Reply
Rona Maynard
December 26, 2008 at 3:03 PM

Marion, your comment made my day!

Leave a Reply

Stay up-to-date with Rona.

To see what’s on my mind these days, friend me on Facebook.

Miss my old site?

Visit the archive to find your favorite blog posts and Chatelaine editorials or browse my published articles. Sorry, I’m not blogging anymore.