Saturday, December 21, 2013

Christmas: A Time for Gatherings

We’re entering the weekend before Christmas, a time when people set aside all thoughts—well, most, hopefully—of business and the pressures of the outside world. It’s a time when people’s thoughts turn toward home and family. With all the holiday shopping done, the gifts wrapped and tantalizingly on display, the Christmas cards all—well, at least that top forty, in my case—addressed and mailed, the western world may now heave a collective sigh of relief and get on with what we’ve all been waiting for: the festivities with family and friends.

While most holiday gatherings are peopled with faces from the present, I’ve noticed a few faces from the past slipping in and taking their place in a parade of memories.

Perhaps this is to be expected for those of us accustomed to thinking of those we claim in our heritage. After all, we tend to spend a lot of time with those no longer with us—except in the documents studiously collected for genealogical verification processes.

Some of the people gathering with us—in memory only—during this holiday season are those we knew and remember from years long gone: great-grandparents, great aunts and great uncles—then grandparents. And now, even parents and sometimes siblings, too. Like reruns from a eulogy of years past, much of what we recall are the good reports of these loved ones. When seen from such a distance, all the warts and bumps seem to fade away, and we remember with fondness the significance of their gift to our lives. We can celebrate them now.

Others we remember—and it takes a family historian to be able to do this—are those in our past whom we’ve never met. Those whose acquaintance has been made only on paper. It’s a one-way relationship facilitated by government records, newspaper archives, musty old books and even faded photographs. Sometimes, in the droning after-dinner conversation, these specters are resurrected through the words of an aging relative, when the chatter turns to “I remember” tales, passing vignettes of personal heritage from generation-before to generation-after. In the ether of transient talk, we evoke those remembered for another generation and allow them to join the gathering.

No matter where your holiday gatherings occur, and who is planning to attend them, may they be blessed with the contextual richness of those added generations, as you and your family pass along tales from your heritage to those who may carry their memory into the future.

Above left: Chromolithograph "Christmas Eve" produced by Joseph C. Hoover and Sons, Philadelphia, in the late 1800s; courtesy Library of Congress via Wikipedia; in the public domain.


  1. I have dug out some photos of folks that used to share Christmas with me - and will share them with family on Christmas. They will always be remembered and always be treasured.

    1. I noticed you shared some on your blog today, Iggy. Yes, these are memories to always treasure!

  2. Warts and bumps yes they are forgotten over time:)

    1. I found it quite enlightening when I learned that the funeral term "eulogy" is actually a word from the Greek, which roughly translated (in my own terms here) means "a good word." From the point of the funeral onward, we take our cue from the meaning of that word, eulogy, and what we say and think of the "dear departed" seems to grow more rosy and optimistic.

      Too bad we all couldn't catch on to that sooner :)


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