As I begin to pack for my trip to spend the holiday with family in Washington, D.C., childhood memories rush in, and I begin to reflect on so many holidays in which I was stranded at airports because of bad weather, but time spent with family always made the inconvenience worthwhile. During my young adulthood, I looked forward to going home for the holiday. As a child, I’d sit in front of a window at my grandmother’s, excited, anxious. Fresh virgin snow falling made everything my eyes touched the color of ivory. With animated anticipation, I’d wait for family to arrive from some other part of the country. It felt like eternity, which made their arrival all the more delightful.
My grandmother, famously known as “Granny,” prepared the holiday supper, but family pitched in with tasks such as setting the table. Perhaps helping hands sliced and diced something, and washed dishes after a very blessed and outrageously delicious meal.
It is always at this time of year, among other things, that I am reminded of the delicious fruitcake Granny would send special delivery each year. No one else in the family claims to like fruitcake. Granny received the fruitcake every single holiday as a gift–for maybe two decades! Because I was the only one to like the cake, I could expect it to arrive, like clockwork, roughly a week before Christmas.
Lovingly protected in a Christmas-themed tin, the cake was wrapped in cellophane so as to retain its amazing moistness, and loaded with green and red cherries, golden raisins, pecans, walnuts, and laced with fine rum. When the expected fruitcake didn’t arrive one holiday–probably around the late 80s–I called Granny and said, “Where’s my fruitcake?” I’d discovered through our conversation–chats that were always life-learning–the friend who sent the fruitcake to Granny each year had passed away.
Not particularly significant to me at the time, but it was that first Christmas of not having received the fruitcake which altered my future Christmases. Of course getting a very good fruitcake in the mail was something I looked forward to. Yet in retrospect, I see so many years later that receiving the fruitcake had a hand in how I experienced the season. And as the years came to pass, and no longer receiving the fruitcake, there was a defining difference in how I relished the holiday.
It isn’t something we naturally take notice of, or understand in the fullness of its scope: how one simple thing can shift our perception. In reflecting deeper, and gazing just a bit closer at what feels like vague holiday remembrances, bits and pieces of our past will come back which remind us the ways in which our holidays groomed us. Fragments of our memories, when we were living through them, seemed to have little substance. But it’s the left-behind moments that have the most impact. Even the vagueness of that timeframe makes the moments unique. Those back-in-the-day joys or sorrows most likely will enrich future holidays, because they give an honored tradition depth and meaning.
While those seemingly trivial holidays were but a part of a life pattern, they likewise shaped us. Not in ways we can recognize from a superficial lens. In taking the time to assess our past end-of-year experiences, we’d need to take the time to put them into perspective. In doing so, we might discover what matters most to us. It takes a non-judging approach, and with a gentle heart, to embrace those hard-to-think-they-made-that-much-of-a-difference Christmastime pasts. They hold inconspicuous meaning. They sustain the present us.
For me it was the fruitcake. The decadent treat was a constant in my life for a very long time. And as I recall the ritual of receiving that fruitcake–packaged and sent with deep and unconditional love–I never had the chance to express how much I appreciated receiving it year after year. What it meant to me. How much it genuinely mattered. The awesome importance it had in shaping my life story.
This year has been an especially tumultuous time in our flawed but amazing Universe, so there’s no better time than “the now” to fully recognize meaning and substance. It can be as modest as the arrival of an extraordinarily rich fruitcake in a decorative tin can.