We’ll all be there tonight. Where else would we go?
We’ve all been convening at Colleen’s every Christmas Eve for years. Some say it’s been about 13 or 14 years; others say closer to 20. I’m not sure what it is for us, but I know it’s been way more than 10 because Heidi’s kids used to be kids, delighting in waiting on the adults, checking out the wrapped presents, taking the coats to the bedroom, and just being kids.
Now they show up with their boyfriends and partake in the adult beverages right along with us. Some might think we’re a strange group; Colleen prefers to think of us as lovable misfits.
We are a diverse group, to say the least. We have a couple of musicians who are insanely talented, but probably will never get rich. And we’ve got a teacher, a state worker, a waitperson, a clinical social worker, a couple of retirees, a fisherman, a writer, and “whoever happens to come through the door,” according to our hostess.
We’re all ages too, ranging from the 20s into the 90s, yet we all get along so well. The conversation flows as freely as do the wine and spirits, with non-stop food: shrimp cocktail, stuffies, chicken cutlets, potato pancakes, cheese and crackers, bacon wrapped scallops, guacamole, spanakopita, and enough desserts to make the dining room table and us, groan.
But it truly isn’t about the food and drink, it’s about the tradition. Each of us is there on Christmas Eve for a different reason. Some have no family in the immediate area, some have no family at all. Some are estranged from their relatives, some just have strange relatives!
We even have one or two for whom holidays are stressful times who prefer not to celebrate in the traditional way, so we all just come together and celebrate each other. We don’t sing carols, we don’t do the Yankee swap gift thing. Matter of fact, there are no responsibilities nor conditions at Colleen’s Christmas Eve gathering.
There’s no dress code; some come in jeans and boots and some in “church clothes” because they might be going to Mass in a few hours. The main thing is, everyone is comfortable. Comfortable in their own skin, comfortable with each other.
In retrospect, Colleen’s house is small, even tiny by some standards, yet we never feel crowded. The food is artistically presented on the kitchen counter and the dining room table, and everyone helps themselves. There’s always a place for the plates and napkins and silverware. The rooms are well decorated; and the two cats, Mick and Keith (yes, named after “them”), lurk in and out, keeping a watchful eye on the guests, never distracted by the platters of food. Most of all, there’s always room for friendship, laughter, and lively conversation.
The “smokers” — those dastardly folks — slink in and out, convening on the deck regardless of the weather, engaging in their own conversations, while bidding “Merry Christmas!” to those coming in or leaving. We are a happy bunch, comfortable in this tradition that somehow began… well, even Colleen isn’t sure how or when.
My husband and I used to go to North Carolina for Christmas to visit cousins; and while it was always fun, it was hectic. If we flew, we had to ship the presents ahead, which was costly and a giant pain. So for years we drove, getting up at 3 a.m., making the drive to Raleigh in one day.
We’d arrive midafternoon and immediately be plunged into their drama. One cousin always had a cold, her husband always barhopped until he was unintelligible, another fought with her mother, while the host of the Christmas dinner was never ready on time, leaving the guests to grouse, nap, and starve in the living room. Several years ago, after fighting our way home in an ice storm that extended from Washington, D.C., to New England, we had had enough. It was time to forge our own tradition… and that included Colleen’s Christmas Eve.
Whatever you and your family and friends do, I hope it will be something you enjoy… something fun… memories made that your children and grandchildren will long remember. There is no set standard for setting a tradition… anything goes, so long as it fits and is pleasurable.
So from the “lovable misfits” here in Hopkinton to the rest of you, Merry Christmas!
Rona Mann has been a freelance writer for The Sun for 16 years, including her “In Their Shoes” features. She has written three books: one about the towns and villages in our area, one about growing up in the ’50s, and one that recounts untold veterans’ stories from WWII to the present. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 401539- 7762.