I'm "A City Mom" and the author of two novels, Down at the Golden Coin and Wish Club. I live in Chicago with my husband, three kids, two cats and a dog. When I'm not being a mom or a writer, I fly 767's for a major airline.
For over fifty years my eighty-nine year old mother has been hosting a Christmas Eve party at her house, and while my husband and kids and I will be heading over there this year, we are the only ones who will. It seems this family tradition is coming to an end.
I have fond memories of this party. One year, my Uncle Mike announced Santa had come early, leaving presents for the kids on the second floor landing of my grandmother's two-flat (we lived upstairs, grandma down.) I think I must have been around four years old, and for many years afterward, I couldn't understand why this year Santa had only shown up just that once. My cousins (mostly boys) and I would play together wildly and, being raised an only child, it was both fun and slightly terrifying. In those years, I would have to guess attendance hovered around thirty people, probably more.
But kids grew up and moved out and had their own families. Families moved farther and farther out to the exurbs and it became harder and harder to make it to my mom's house for Christmas Eve. "I have to work until five," "I have church at seven," "We're going to So and So's house this year," "There's just not enough time to see everyone." In recent years, sometimes there've been as few as ten of us.
Bravely, my mother and father soldiered on. I've offered many times to host the party for them, to no avail. My mother loves this party and she would not give it up. (How many times have you been successful trying to convince your eighty-something Russian mother to do something else?) In many ways, I think this party keeps her going. And so the few of us who've continued to attend would sit downstairs in the wood-paneled basement drinking our traditional bourbon-spiked punch and eating cocktail weenies (Say what you will, they're always gone by the end of the night!) and, some years, awkwardly listening to the clock tick. No, it's not the most exciting or boisterous party ever held on Christmas Eve, but that really isn't the point.
We don't have the closest extended family in the world, but we mostly still like each other and enjoy each other's company. We're not getting together every weekend for birthdays and anniversaries and unless there's a wedding or a funeral during the year, Christmas Eve is usually the only time we see each other, which could explain why it is we all mostly still like each other and enjoy each other's company.
This year, my cousin decided she's hosting a Christmas Eve party at her house, and poof, the remaining guests are now gone. My mother is handling it well. Better than I am. (I understand my cousin's house is small, but she could have at least invited my parents. Although I guess that would have meant inviting the five of us too and I think you begin to see the dilemma that's had me start to write a letter to Ask Amy three separate times.
My mom insists on cooking dinner for us, a ham, which she says makes her happier than "dealing with the caterers." My Dad will still go out and get a tree and decorate it. My kids say they're looking forward to going to Grandma's, and I guess I am, too.
No tradition lasts forever, I suppose. Which I think means we should all enjoy each other's company while we can.