that you all had a wonderful holiday season and enjoyed good times with your
friends and families. I did. My “sister-in-love”, as she likes to call herself,
came in from Italy with my nine year-old niece. They are spending their three-week
vacation here with us in Maui.
in from New York. We have a full house and I am relishing every minute of the
noise and chaos. I wouldn’t know what to do with a quiet Christmas.
Still, even with a full house, I am a bit unnerved. Suddenly,
I am the matriarch expected to lead the holiday festivities and I am not even
sure I know how to do all of this without my mom. This is normally her role and
without her here I feel uprooted, in the wind, even inadequate.
So, I decided to take this first Christmas on Maui easy on
myself, allowing a little extra space and time to step in to my new role.
I wanted to live up to our family’s standards but I did not want to be rigid in
them. That would just stress me out. My goal was to be fluid. Things could not
possibly be the same but I would try to hit all of the important beats.
I got off to a good start. The day after Thanksgiving is
hallowed as a day of decoratation in my family. So, that morning, outside on
our lanai, Michele, Jada and I draped our coconut tree in flashing lights
instead of setting up an elaborately dressed pine inside. The smell of a fresh
tree in the house is nostalgic but it seemed forced and artificial, potentially
overpowering the salty taste of the sea swept in by the trade winds. I forgot
to play the traditional, classic carols and Christmas gospel while we draped
the tree. Mike put on some reggae. I didn’t beat myself up too much about the
music. I let it slide.
On Christmas Eve, we cooked all day in preparation for a dinner
party at our neighbors’ house. That felt right, everyone jammed in the kitchen
together, elbow to elbow, while the kids sat in the living room and watched old
Christmas specials like “Frosty the Snowman” and “A Charlie Brown Christmas”.
But by the time we got back home after dinner, it was almost midnight. We made
a manic attempt to wrap all of the gifts before we crashed. I forgot to Netflix
“It’s A Wonderful Life” while we wrapped, a tradition held since my grandmother
was a kid. Mike Pandora’d Christmas carols instead. I think CNN was on the tube
at the same time. And, I missed the smell of sweet potatoes roasting in the
oven and collards bubbling on the stove. As we cut and taped, there was only
the faint stink of leftovers from our Seven Fishes
feast and the smoky smell of
hot oil left sitting on the stove from the random fried chicken that I’d forced
on to the menu.
We did buy Jada an intimidating mound of gifts. Over the top
gift giving is another family tradition, the practice never a reflection of how
well or poorly we’ve done for the year but a constant threshold to be reached
no matter the circumstances. It took her two hours to open everything. That was
satisfying. But I didn’t make her a Christmas breakfast of pancakes, bacon and
eggs after she was done. Italians don’t eat before noon, just little shots of
espresso and maybe a dry cookie or piece of bread, and they don’t make
exceptions for Christmas. Jada was content with a little bowl of grapes.
Dinner was a simple tray of roasted lamb and potatoes. It
was good, but we didn’t hold hands and bow our heads and offer the Lord our
thanks. At my mother’s table, we each take turns saying a prayer before we even
lift our forks. Jada honored her Nana better than I did because before she
would allow anyone a bite, she stood in her chair and insisted that we all hold
hands. Then, she proceeded to sing a somber Hawaiian prayer that she’d learned
at preschool. No one understood a word, except for the “Amen” at the song’s end,
but the spirit of love and gratitude settled quietly over the table and we ate
There is nothing wrong with spending Christmas Day in a
bathing suit or drinking a lilikoi smoothie for Christmas breakfast, especially
if it is made from the fruit of your own tree. Gathering on the beach after
opening gifts beats huddling around the TV to watch another re-run of “A
Christmas Story”. Accommodating the culture of your guests and extended family,
making room for their standards, is okay too. But next year, some things, the
important things that honor my own history and culture, the things that I want
to pass on to my daughter, will be different because I will work more
consciously on making them the same.