It's so nice to welcome Brunonia Barry, New York Times bestselling author of The Lace Reader and The Map of True Places to my Open House! And I love, love, love this story and the thought of all that candy being consumed by all the children en masse! Read on.
I’m Dreaming of a Wild Christmas
Long before I was born, my maternal grandmother owned a lollypop company. She and her business partner made barley sugar lollypops for specialty shops in Boston. Their big season was Christmas. These were not lollypops on a stick, as one might imagine, they were more like stand alone ceramic figurines. By the time we were growing up, my grandmother had long since given up her business, but she still had her molds. As a gift to us each year, she recreated Santa, his sleigh and eight reindeer. The sugary red display stood ten inches high at the antlers and twenty-five inches long, and it sat on our mantle in pristine untouched splendor until the day before Christmas when all the neighborhood children were invited to consume it. We buzzed around in sugared ecstasy as one reindeer after another lost first his antlers, then his head, and then a leg or two until we finally and mercifully polished him off. A swarm of greedy sugar fiends, we managed to eat every one of the reindeer but always spared Santa in hopes that this act of kindness would be remembered favorably the following year when he made his rounds.
The kind of frenzied excitement that surrounded our lollypop binge began to build in the weeks leading up to Christmas, the one time of year we were allowed to be wild children. For me, it was never as apparent as on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day when we celebrated three different but equally exciting family traditions.
Because we travelled to my grandmother’s house on Christmas Eve, and because my parents wanted to have us open our stockings at home, Santa always came down our chimney the night of December 23rd instead of the 24th. Unfortunately, our parents neglected to tell us that it would be wise not to share this information with the other kids in the neighborhood. Being children, we immediately and proudly displayed the bounty of our stockings, until my parents began to get phone calls from concerned parents. Try explaining to your children that Santa comes down your street a night early but only to visit the Barry family! Children recognize such injustice immediately, and protest it loudly. While my parents couldn’t be talked out of this practice, my brother and I agreed to keep our privilege a secret and, instead, focused our friends’ attention on their upcoming reindeer binge. As our neighborhood gang of sugary children finished the last of the reindeer display, my parents packed the car for the short trip over the bridge to Pride’s Crossing.
At my grandmother’s house, we were expected to behave. We dressed in our best for Christmas Eve. Dinner consisted of lobster stew and popovers, not unusual in a New England seacoast town, and a tradition we continue. Though the menu was casual, it was elegantly served, a dress rehearsal for the next day’s feast. After our lobster stew, each grandchild changed into red-footed pajamas and was allowed to open one gift. We each picked the largest one we could find. My brother and I barely managed to contain ourselves as we looked at the huge piles of presents under the tree. We were dying to tear into them, but it was bedtime, so we reluctantly kissed everyone goodnight. We slept in adjoining rooms, and it didn't take long after the lights were extinguished for the door to open and for us to begin whispering about tomorrow. Anticipating a second set of stocking bounty from Santa, and having been told that Santa would not come to the house if we were awake, my brother and I tried to will ourselves to sleep. Our silent mantra was ”I must go to sleep. I must go to sleep.” Focusing so intently on trying to sleep made us so excited that we managed to get just a few hours of rest, but somehow that was long enough for Santa to get in, fill our stockings for the second time in twenty-four hours, and get out. By the time Christmas dinner was over the next day, we were asleep wherever we dropped, the combination of turkey tryptophan and sheer exhaustion felling us among our toys.
My parents always made sure we had a long nap that afternoon because, on Christmas night, we had a whole new celebration to attend, this time with my father’s side of the family back in Marblehead, a large Irish clan with dozens of aunts, uncles, and cousins. Over the years, this second family gathering had grown, until now it was not just relatives but friends, and friends of friends, and anyone who was home for the holidays and wanted some Christmas cheer. We played games. We ate another meal. We exchanged gifts. All the while, my father followed us around taking home movies, carrying a huge blinding strip of lights and encouraging us to “do something,” meaning something that would look good on camera and be remembered. Hamming it up, we sang and danced and even did cartwheels, trying to outdo each other to get more camera time, until, finally, my mother would put an end to the movie-making. We wandered around with spots in front of our eyes for the rest of the evening.
This last Christmas celebration often lasted until two or three in the morning. Over the years, we’ve had to give up this last party in favor of a yearly family reunion. As the family got older, it was just too much. I really miss it. For me, it was a perfect ending to a wild Christmas.