As a favorite Southern colleague of mine says, I come by my love of holidays “rightly”. There wasn’t a commercialized holiday we didn’t celebrate in my house growing up. Birthdays were never forgotten. Halloween was huge. And Christmas was usually dotted by several days of family appearances, shenanigans that only my mom’s side of the family could conjure up (a telling example: one year, someone received a “Where’s Waldo” doll – Waldo would go on to become the baby Jesus in a manger scene re-enacted by me, my twin aunts, their partners, and my mom; there are pictures somewhere capturing this sacrilege), and some kind of party. Our tree was so giant, so decorated, and so crowded over with gifts that it was all pretty obscene.
I loved it all.
To give you an idea of the magnitude of the Halloween I knew in my young life, I should describe the typical preparation leading up to October 31st (every year):
– My mom plotting for weeks and expertly sewing some kind of elaborate Halloween costume for her one and only
– The assembly of the graveyard (formerly: front yard)
– Bales of hay and pumpkins organized in various locations
– Lights, silhouetted things, witches, bats, etc. peeking out of bushes and trees
– And (my favorite) a giant sheet that draped over a domed light we had (probably completely unsafe) with a ghost face my mom had sewn onto it
Christmas was also completely off the charts (the Waldo story may have alluded to this). In one of my favorite memories, the house was packed. All of my best girlfriends decided to come over (and some of their parents). My aunts were both in town so they were there too. Our neighbors had all connected, in large part, through my mom, and they were also all there. At one point, I realized, my aunt’s long-time partner had shoved a giant case in one corner. The giant case, as it turned out, held an accordion. My then-aunt-by-proxy (an avid motorcycle gal, fond of wearing Harley Davidson t-shirts, Levi’s jeans and leather boots), was like… the Kenny G of the accordion world, and we had NO IDEA. On top of that, she had the foresight to bring several copies of popular carols with her. The entire (multi-faithed and multi-cultural) room BELTED out Christmas Carols at the top of their lungs like their lives depended on it. In short, it was all amazing. We had the best time. My friends would go on to lament the loss of the accordion for years (there was a break up) at holiday functions. Who knew the accordion could be an instrument of unity?
I miss it all.
Nothing can compare to holidays with my family then, and I’ve never experienced anything like them since, but I try to keep the tradition alive.
Years later, the holiday whimsy still lives with me. I decorate, ridiculously sometimes, for every calendar date (… St. Patrick’s Day, Valentine’s Day). I send friends and family cards, holiday trinkets and baubles. My Christmas tree is a micro-version of the one that was so huge it used to scrape our vaulted ceiling. My Culver City apartment becomes a Halloween wonderland for the entire month of October (and sometimes September). And I still love parties. Whether I am in a 700-square foot apartment or a 4-bedroom house, there will always be parties.
Although holidays aren’t exactly the same, they will always be my portal to home, past and present.