The house was open, the door unlocked. In a small stucco house on Olympic Boulevard, not far from the Avenue of the Stars in West LA on Christmas Eve, holiday goers in the 1950s could always count on a cup of cheer. Tradition dictated the little home would be lit up and welcoming for passersby on these dark nights, my grandmother keeping a gleaming crystal bowl full of homemade eggnog for those who dropped in, and merry they were, given the generous inclusion of bourbon and rum poured into her frothy concoction. It’s no small wonder that house was always full on Christmas Eve.
Her guests included friends, neighbors, politicians, and celebrities. The Hollywood area was a community then. In my mind’s eye, I see my grandmother well. She’s glammed out in a belted, form fitting dress, heeled pumps elevating her 4’11” frame. The rhinestone clusters in each ear are highlighted by her stylish, short haircut, and she radiates celebration as she welcomes her guests in, a drink in one hand, a cigarette in the other, her lipsticked smile a degree above sophistication.
I’ve carried on the tradition, with some notable differences. When my grandmother passed away in 1998, I was given her beautiful punchbowl. It is among my most prized possessions. Each year on Christmas Eve, I lovingly take it down from the cupboard, place it on my kitchen counter, and lay its cups out to surround it. I then take out her eggnog recipe, written on an old recipe card, and while my kids giggle with delight, I separate a dozen yolks from their whites. My grandmother’s instructions call to whip the ingredients apart from one another and in stages, and while it is some effort, what with all the other food chaos going on in the vicinity on such nights, not the least of which is the plate of cookies that must be readied for Santa, the result is well worth it.
There is no finer, more frothy eggnog than the one I make using my grandmother’s centuries old recipe.
Even without the booze. Not that I’d mind, but I’ve rarely added it. Even when we were still living in San Diego and the kids were younger. Christmas Eve is every parent’s biggest night of the year, and with eight kids, and now, five grandkids, I have always had much to ready, much to be tired for.
Adding a little zip to my nog was out of the question.
Okay, so if ever there was a year for spiking the eggnog, 2020 is it. But that isn’t the reason I’m thinking tonight might be the one to change things up. Tradition is changing.
That isn’t always such a bad thing.
Like like everyone else, we are missing being with family members this pandemic year. We are grieving the loss of so many Christmas activities, performances, and celebrations, and lamenting the disappearance of so very many customs. But that’s not all of it. Personal adjustments will be significant here this year. For the first time in thirty one years, I will not be getting ready for Santa’s arrival here. For the first time in three decades, I will not be getting the plate with cookies artistically placed, the glass of milk filled. There will be no carrots set out on the porch for the reindeer and no children to get into new Christmas pajamas. No bedtime book reading, no sugarplum dreaming to encourage.
Our children and grandchildren are growing up. Our oldest grandson is ten years younger than our youngest child. So, when our daughter Kelsea began having children, they joined us to stay overnight for Santa’s arrival here. Our tradition included attending church together and then a lasagna dinner, and eggnog, of course, the filling of stockings after the children were in bed.
This year, however, all our grandchildren will spend Christmas Eve in their own homes. Although it will be different, and we will miss Kelsea and her family here on Christmas Eve, it’s time they enjoy the ability to do the night in their own home. Kelsea has siblings that are married or about to be too, with other people in their lives now—other families to spend Christmas with too. And for the first time, this evening will be rather quiet here as we share it with others. It will be an evening spent at church together again, but when we return home, there will be no commotion, no harried agenda, no rush to get the kids to bed and the presents under the tree. The good news is that my husband, a couple of our girls, and I will be able to sit down and have dinner and maybe even watch a Christmas movie in a silent night.
And to have some eggnog with a splash of rum.
And most of all, to thank our God for coming to earth as a frail human in order to demonstrate his love for us. As I hold my cup tonight, I will be reflecting upon the very many things I have to be grateful for.
Even the changes.
In change, we are often able to best stop down a moment, take a breath, and consider a small portion of our blessings.