Holiday traditions


My sister confided in me that when we were kids
she never really liked Christmas. It always meant
too much scrubbing and bustle, too much cooking,
too big a mess to be got into and then cleaned up after.
The hardwood floors needed to be stripped and waxed
and every nook and cranny got into and cleaned out—
you never know when the priest could drop in (although
truth be known, all that needed was a good liquor cabinet.)
The decorations had to be pulled out, sorted out and put up,
and every one of grandmother’s dishes and glasses got at,
washed, used, and one (by me, of course, it was always me)
broken each year. And that was just the preparations.

I have grandchildren the age we were then, but when I speak to her,
I am always, again, that baby boy of the family—I never knew,
I never realized. Being younger (and dodgier) on Christmas Day
I was useless, as was our dad, who was exhausted and drunk by noon.
So my memory is different: fun yes, but depressed afterward,
the buildup over, the presents opened, the house put away
and everyone down for a nap, just me awake, wondering
where mom had hidden the chocolates. I still miss those,
even now, when I know just how much they cost.


My sister tells me that my mother’s favorite chocolates were Quality Street. It is a question of some debate in our family as to which came first: whether mom was forced to hide them because I would seek them out where ever they were hidden, or whether I had to take to hunting them because mom had secreted them away. It did not matter, though, since ours was a small house and I knew all of her favorite hiding spots.

The photograph was taken of a barn door on a small farm in Pomfret, CT. To see my photography blog, please visit the Book of Bokeh.


Photograph, poem and notes © 2014 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. The poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original written work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2014 by John Etheridge, The photograph is not licensed for use in any way without the expressed consent of its creator.


Filed under Poetry

16 responses to “Holiday traditions

  1. For some wonderful reason, Christmas always humbles me. I am just grateful for snow and sparkly lights. I don’t need any presents anymore. Just laughter.

    • Absolutely, except that I’d add music to the list. And food.

      Maybe food, then music. But definitely both 🙂

      • When you are right…I am searching for my Gregorian Chants and I went to the French patisserie and set aside a “Bush de Noel” for Christmas Eve. It is so sweet. It looks like a yule log but tastes like heaven.

      • That is so amazing you would say that. Lyn and I and two couples of friends went down to NYC for a concert and dinner. We ate at Benoit’s Bistro, one of Lyn’s and my favorite restaurants in the city….who (wait for it) have the most marvelous buche de noels imaginable! To look at it is to gain weight! 🙂

  2. It can be a lot of work, yes, but the time we get to spend with family is invaluable. It’s interesting how we can have different perspectives from our siblings, when it comes to memories, that always intrigues me. Thank you for sharing your family with us, and I hope you have a wonderful holiday.

    • Oscar, thank you very much! I really appreciate your comment. It is interesting, isn’t it that siblings—who are so close in so many ways—can have such different viewpoints or remember things so differently. And I hope too that you and yours have a healthy, happy and safe holidays! Thank you for dropping by the Book of Pain.

  3. My mum loves Quality Streets too! I bet it is getting quite extinct as it appears only during Christmas season 😀

  4. 🙂 Beautiful reflection and memory! I agree with biochicklet, I always looking forward to the reunion with good friends and family..that matters most! Hope you have a wonderful Christmas!

    • Biochicklet is a friend and the author of the Biochicklet blog. Her poetry is excellent: personal and intense. And I agree with you, she is a very wise person indeed! And I hope that you and yours too have a safe, happy and healthy Holidays! 🙂

  5. Mackeral! (Holy) – – – John, this is a wonderful post. The imagery in your words, your story … not just your story, but THE story … and the story your family participates in …. So good. And beautiful. Hey, have a great Christmas, in case I don’t make it back to your neck of the woods before Yuletide. Blessings to your family.

  6. Christmas really can bring out such positive and negative emotions… I meet people who love it so much and then others who wish it would go away… Thanks for sharing your memories of childhood Christmas. Have you ever had the chocolates called ‘after eights’? I like those because they have mint in them (refreshing).

    • Oh good heavens! That is so funny…After Eights was another of my mother’s favorites, probably because I do not like mint and so they were one of the few chocolates that I left alone! 🙂

      It is interesting that there are so many reactions to Christmas. I think it comes down to the degree of anticipation that one has, versus the one pushed upon you and the effort that is required to meet it.

      In any event, I hope your Holidays season was bright, healthy and happy!