This coming weekend, I will be presenting a program at my church’s Ladies’ Christmas Breakfast and Cookie Exchange. I am presenting on Christmas traditions in the Cayman Islands, where I grew up, with the help of my mother. That’s another big thing about Saturday: my mother, my mother-in-law, AND my daughter will be there. I also haven’t presented or anything of the like since I resigned from teaching in 2013, so I’m more than a little nervous.
There are several Christmas “traditions” that I remember fondly from growing up. One of them was going to tour the lit and decorated yards of the wealthier homes on the south side of the island. These folks went ALL OUT. They lit every tree and bush in the garden, had the animatronics displays out, sometimes even Santa himself there for the little ones to take pictures with. I really enjoyed it, as there would always be Christmas music playing and it felt a bit magical to me, especially when I was little. As I became a teenager, our youth group from church would head out there on the last Friday before Christmas. The folks who owned these homes knew most of us – our families – pretty well and, jokingly, one year they said that, if we were going to tour their yards, we should pay for it somehow. What they requested in recompense was for us to sing. Most of us in the youth group were also in the choir at school and, with places taken and a few pitches given, we launched into our Christmas program repertoire. Soon, most of the people touring the property had gathered to hear the voices that carried on the air across the yard. We enjoyed it and the owners were delighted. It was one of our favorite things to do on the bus: sing our choir pieces a capella. It kept us honest and in practice with the pieces that we had to memorize and perform. Plus, it was a heck of a lot of fun to just sing with my friends.
Another tradition was Christmas Eve dinner. On Christmas Eve, my parents and I would dress up and go out to a nice restaurant for dinner, usually my choice. Usually, it was just us, though sometimes it included some family friends. Eventually, for a few years, that dinner included me, my parents, my high school teacher (one of my favorite people in the world), her husband, and her son. We would spend hours at dinner, talking, laughing, and enjoying each other’s company. I recall one night, as we sat on the restaurant’s patio, watching the new moon course from one corner of the sky to the next in the time of our dinner together. I remember wearing a particular dress to one of these dinners and, before bed that night, I received an email from my teacher’s son, telling me that I looked beautiful in my dress. I must admit, that had me chuffed for the rest of the season.
After dinner, the remainder of Christmas Eve was often spent with me and my mother in the darkened living room, “Carpenters Christmas Portrait” playing on the stereo, enjoying the glow of the Christmas tree. Some years, I would open one present on Christmas Eve, some years not. But I always ended Christmas Eve in front of the tree, ready for that flutter of anticipation in my heart come morning. It’s gotten milder as I have grown older, of course, but it’s still there and it’s nice.