For many people Christmas magic comes from far away, whether from a Jolly Elf in a sleigh, or a child born in a manger many centuries ago. As a Christmas lover, I find joy in both. Over the years though, I have found that Christmas Magic for me, was just an eight- hour drive away. It was the advent of my maternal grandparents visit.
Long Walk Home
I grew up with the luxury of having a set of Grandparents who had only one child, my mom. This meant that my siblings and I never had to share them with anyone else. Waiting for their arrival was more exciting than Santa Claus. In those days we didn't text or call someone long distance just to chat. You reserved those calls for special times. This meant we were never sure what day Grandma and Grandpa would arrive. Grandma and Mom exchanged weekly letters. Mom would ask if Grandma knew when they were coming. Grandma's reply was, "Let me ask." Grandpa, the mayor of his neighborhood, was never settled on what day he should leave because there was always someone to help and he wanted to be as available for them as he was for us.
Because their only daughter's birthday fell on December 17th, we were nearly guaranteed they would be to our house by then. This meant that from December 15th onward my brother and I had the longest thirty minute walk home from school we would have all year. Though the amount of blocks hadn't changed, the anticipation and potential disappointment added butterflies to our tummies or led to our feet. One could never be sure which emotion would walk with you on those last waiting days.
As we reached the final corner to turn down our street, we created our own ritual. The corner that we turned without a thought all the rest of the school year, became our wishing corner. We would stand on the east side of the corner, take a moment, wish our wish that they had arrived, then crane our heads around to the north and hope we saw a blue or white impala. It was white when we were younger. Later on, he had it painted blue.
If our wish came true and it was parked on the curb we raced like "leaves before the wild hurricane fly." No one ever timed us, but it felt like we broke the 100-yard dash world records as we breached our doorway. Grandpa most often was at the door to greet us. Unbridled enthusiasm overcame us all the years of our lives. There was nothing better than Christmas with Grandma and Grandpa.
Setting the Stage
Because they arrived while we were at school, they had already unpacked their baggage. Grandpa was an intentional packer. A tension sprung clothing rack was stretched across the back seat. Allowing their nice clothes to hang while they drove. This allowed for plenty of space in the trunk. Which was good because they brought everything from a stove top coffee percolator to boxes of neighbor gifts from their neighbors. The families on Catalina Street were the most giving people. Generously they showered one another with homemade niceties. From jams and jellies to ornaments, holiday towels, and handmade cards. All of this grandpa had carefully packed in brown cardboard boxes. As he brought them in, Grandma would unpack them and tell which neighbor had given what. It was like a pre-Christmas gift opening day. Once all their goodies and belongings were settled in our home, they waited patiently for us kids to get home. Then the festivities could begin.
Food, Fun, & Family
I don't recall what happened if they arrived before school was out. However, once we were available, we launched into a whirlwind week of traditions. No malls existed at that time. The closest thing to a mall was an outdoor shopping center named Vallco Village. It was anchored with a grocery store and supported by dozens of stand alone shops such as a florist, shoe repair, hair salon, and other specialty shops. Each with large glass picture windows.
Grandpa and Grandma piled my brother and I in the backseat of the Impala. The scents of leather, licorice and cigarettes wrapped around us. Representing all the sweet essences of them. Grandpa drove us to Vallco, while Grandma told us about her childhood Christmases in the orphanage. Upon arrival at the shopping center, we headed out to our favorite displays, the Hallmark store and the Bakery. Both always created amazing winter or Christmas sceneries. We could stand for hours and stare.
While we stared, Grandpa made his way to his favorite delicatessen, Meyberg's. He would order all of us hot pastrami sandwiches, side salads, chips, and a long dill pickle spear. With his purchase complete, we would all walk over to the Santa booth. It was a simple three-sided wood shed. We didn't have to wait in line very long. We got our candy canes, verbalized our wish lists, then headed home before the sandwiches got cold and soggy.
Everything about our Magical Christmas with Grandpa and Grandma was built on traditions. From the movies we watched, the restaurants we went to like Vesuvio's, to the homemade cookies we cut out, baked, and decorated. Every inch of their visit was a holiday delight in living color.
Twenty-seven Christmases have come and gone without them. My siblings and I are married with kids of our own. We each carried a tradition from those days. My brother and his family break-out board games. My sister and her kids still do the Nativity re-enactment. My adult kids still mix, cut, bake, and decorate soft sugar cookies using the same recipe I used as a kid.
Theodor Geisel was right when he wrote, "It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags." Our Christmas didn't come from a store. Our Christmas was always a little bit more.
*Below is the family favorite recipe. Message me for baking instructions. I promise you these are yummy.