As I get older my love for family time has grown, and my happy memories of huge family gatherings as a child are more poignant. They give me a warm, fuzzy feeling, and I remember the childhood magic of Christmas.
I am grateful for any time that we get to spend with our families, as my husband’s job as a paramedic and my non-writing job as a nurse means we don’t always get traditional holidays off. Our extended families now live out of town, except for one cousin, and because my husband is an only child and I have only one brother, my children rarely get to experience the kind of holiday chaos that comes with large families. I remember these fantastic, frantic, loud, crowded experiences with so much love.
Christmas Eve was reserved for Dad’s family: my Warner grandparents, his three sisters and brother, and later their families. It was amazing. For several years, Christmas Eve dinner was self-made pizzas with unique toppings, or delicious soups made by my aunt’s husband. My two cousins, brother and I would hope for snow and make “snowla-colas” if it did: hard packed snow in a glass, over which you poured the soda. By the time more little cousins arrived, we were happy to pass on that tradition. I was the only niece/granddaughter until I was twenty one, when my aunt finally ended the male-dominated cousin situation. I was tremendously spoiled.
Dad’s family was a little quiet, less demonstrative in their emotions, but the wrapping paper snowball fights after opening presents were legendary! However, compared to the maternal side of my family, they were downright sedate.
Christmas Day was reserved for the Pallmes. Mom’s family consisted of my grandmother, Mom’s two sisters and brother, and usually included my uncle’s in-laws as well. This meant about ten adults, and nine cousins who eventually married and started having kids of their own. I don’t remember a lot of organization in regard to meals. I remember fabulous meatloaf once, ham, turkey, and even pheasant that my uncle had hunted. It was there that I learned to drink sloe-gin fizzes. You could never hear yourself over the level of conversation (hearing loss is a family demon). Here, there was no dearth of estrogen: I had five girl-cousins, and drama was inevitable, although we were very close when we were young. I remember a cutthroat game involving monkeys on a tree one year that had us all screaming. Since I usually asked for books for Christmas, my introverted side would eventually end up in another room with my book, but I could always be drawn out for ping-pong.
As we cousins grew up and married, we started drifting away from these huge family gatherings on holidays. We moved away and got more scattered. It was difficult to schedule get-togethers with multiple in-laws, jobs, family obligations and other things that happen when you grow up.
That’s why it’s important to me that we are able to get together with relatives whenever possible, and my children get to experience the madness that is having twenty-five second and third cousins at my husband’s family reunion once a year. It’s an experience like no other to be swarmed with people who are related by blood ties: loud, crazy, annoying at times. My adult self probably remembers these gatherings with more sentimentality through those fuzzy, fond glasses we all wear when we look back on happy memories. But I’ll keep them close, and remember those Christmases with love.