(Please hit the jump to recipe button above to head straight for the Cinnamon Applesauce!)
When I was a much younger version of me, I always felt especially privileged around this time of year. Not because we had a whole lot of extra money to spend on extravagant presents (we didn’t). Not because we were celebrating in some grandiose way (we weren’t). And not because we would soon be gifted the latest and trendiest fashions (we wouldn’t). My sense of self was grossly inflated simply because I was lucky enough to be celebrating Christmas early. Days early, sometimes a week early–whenever the Sunday before the 25th arrived on the December calendar, that would be the official kick-off to Christmas. And I would make sure to let all of my little friends know as I cheerfully sauntered out the school doors that Friday afternoon. Poor suckers, I pity them still.
The Sunday Before
I’m not really sure when the tradition began, but the memories of those Sundays travel back as far as my memories do. In a heroic effort to gather her steadily growing family around her each December, my grandmother claimed the “Sunday Before” as our day to celebrate. Thankfully, the tradition carried on through the inevitable ups and downs of families; through the births, deaths, hardships, and divorces. It carried on until the kids had kids of their own, and those kids gathered just as gleefully on the blue shag carpet as we once had. And while it was fun to watch my girls enjoy the tradition just as much as I did, my most cherished memories of “the Sunday Before” come from those celebrations held during my childhood.
Are We There Yet?
The day always started out the same, with me and my three siblings happily crammed into the back seat of the family station wagon. The murmuring of my parents’ voices, mingled with Christmas carols on the radio, would drift back to us from the front seat. We were all dressed in our best, hair curled, styled, or slicked, the anticipation so thick it nearly choked us. And thus commenced the longest–and most painful–hour-long car ride of our young lives.
Inevitably, my family was always one of the first to arrive, an exquisite torture unique to Christmas. My siblings and I would twitch, pace, bicker, and/or giggle to pass the time. Our mounting anticipation was only slightly mollified by the abundant snacks set out in various choice spots; we especially delighted in eating cheese curls until we were sick (a snack normally forbidden in our healthy home). The delights of Christmas were definitely too numerous to count, and to this day I remember those cheese curls as fondly as I do everything else.
One by one, cars would pull up into the driveway. And one by one, aunts, uncles, and cousins would make their way through the kitchen door. Their arms would be delightfully laden with festively wrapped gifts, which only increased our suspense a million times over. The initial awkwardness of greeting cousins not seen in a year was always swiftly overcome by shared memories, tingling excitement…and copious amounts of cheese curls.
Eventually, the whole family would be gathered, and the kids knew the highly anticipated opening of the presents had finally arrived. Each and every one of us was presented with an enormous bag of gifts, carefully selected with our favorite colors in mind. We would settle in our chosen spots on the shag rug, next to those whom we most wanted to “ooh” and “ahh” with.
Paper would fly, eyes would widen, and voices would gleefully shout. My gramma always made a valiant–yet ineffectual–attempt to keep the noise at a reasonable decibel. Shh, shh. Keep it down, everyone; she would try repeatedly, but it was so much bigger than her. She didn’t stand a chance at containing the waves of excitement and exclamations of joy that coursed through the room. Defeated, she instead busied herself with collecting the mountains of wrapping paper that were discarded in record time.
But gifts were only the beginning; a delightfully long day stretched before us. Delicious smells would begin to waft in from the kitchen where my grampa was voluntarily sequestered. Choosing the relative quiet of the kitchen with a ball-game on for company, he would be preparing us a feast. I especially remember the deliciously soft dinner rolls, a wide variety of sandwich meats (long before my vegan days), and his warm, homemade cinnamon applesauce. It would all be laid out on the long dining room table, and we’d make our way around, grabbing whatever looked most tempting.
The day would unfold in much the same way every year. Adults would quietly catch up while the kids gathered in groups, playing with new toys and gifts. All of us sprawled happily on that soft and fluffy polyester shag rug. Inevitably, some of the adults would gravitate upstairs where an intense game of Trivial Pursuit would take place, safely distanced from the distraction of little ones. And as the hours ticked past, we would add another layer of cherished memories to the pile already accrued through the passing years.
The setting sun would herald the end of the day, and families would leave with reluctant children in tow. Arms laden with food, we would all make our way out the door with much less energy than we’d strolled in with. And driving home, admiring the Christmas lights, there would be this subtle sadness. This quiet knowing that it would be another endless year until it all happened again.
Subject to Change
But now, it will never happen again, and this year we celebrate our first Christmas without my lovely gramma. (If you’ve been following this blog, you know she passed away in February. I’ve talked about her extraordinary influence here, here, and here.) The last official “Sunday Before” was held in 2016; I wasn’t feeling well and so didn’t attend. Those Sundays had changed through the more recent years; the family was spread too far, and it was harder for my grandmother to organize such a grand event. Slowly, the tradition died a quiet death. Mourned, but perhaps inevitable. After all, is there anything in life that isn’t subject to change?
But forever, in the hearts of my family, the Sunday Before Christmas (today, as this is posted) will always remind us of my effervescent grandmother. It will always whisper of her fondness for family gatherings. And it will always remind us of her generous and loving spirit.
I see my grampa, preparing our meal to the murmur of a game; I see my gramma with that familiar twinkle in her eye. I smell applesauce cooking. I hear conversations and laughter and the running of many small feet. There’s the distant comfort of voices drifting down the stairs as uncles argued the rules of Trivial Pursuit. The taste of cheese curls and dinner rolls. The glitter of extravagant tinsel on fragrant Christmas trees. The warmth of fires winking from the fireplace.
This year, inspired by nostalgic thoughts of my gramma, I’m hosting Christmas at my home. We’ll eat at that same dining room table that my grampa served food on for so many years. And we’ll dine on those same plates. I’ll serve homemade applesauce, and we’ll exchange gifts. It will likely be far, far too noisy. And it’s quite possible that games will be played, and toys will be broken.
There will be no blue-green shag carpet. The sound of my gramma’s contagious chuckle will ring in our memories only. And to her great disappointment, I’m sure, there will be no bottomless bowl of cheese curls to destroy small children’s appetites. But there will be laughter, much of it. Of that I’m certain.
Some Heavenly Version
My grandparents are both gone, and the house has been sold; there is no hope of recreating those days ever again. Although, if I’m being honest, I imagine in some distant and glorious land, my gramma is right now preparing for the festivities. It’s a new (old) bunch gathered around her this year; faces that she rejoices at seeing again. I can see her arranging everything just so. I can (almost) taste the Heavenly version of applesauce that my grampa is whipping up. I imagine the laughter will be just as loud, and the joy just as palpable, and the gifts just as abundant.
But as for us, still left here on Earth? Perhaps it’s time for a new tradition to take root. Perhaps what I didn’t know when I inherited that table was that I also inherited a Christmas tradition. Some days, as I struggle to pull all of the planning together, I’m pretty certain I can hear Gramma chuckling from afar. She squeezes my hand with that familiar twinkle in her eye: Merry Christmas, Melinny, she says.
Merry Christmas, Gramma; give Grampa a hug from me. And Jesus, too.
Wishing you a most happy Christmas. Much love from our home to yours ~ Melinda
Warm, homemade applesauce is the perfect addition to any Christmas feast!
- 10 medium apples (I use an entire 3 lb bag, which is about 10 apples)
- 1½ cups water
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
1. Quarter and core the apples, leaving the skin on.
2. Add the quartered apples, water, and cinnamon to a large soup pot. Cover, bring to a boil, and then reduce heat to a gentle simmer. Stir occasionally, cooking for approximately 45 minutes.
3. Once the apples are soft and the skins are falling off, remove the apples from the heat. Add the cooked apples to the blender; blend until creamy smooth. (Or until chunky, whatever your preference.)
4. Serve hot or cold.
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