My family and I were watching a Thanksgiving-themed cooking show the other day and I remarked that I wondered when that day became my favorite holiday.
My son, 10, was taken aback that it wasn’t Christmas.
After some thought, he offered an explanation: “Was it because Santa stopped bringing you toys?”
I’m glad there’s a part of him that’s still a little boy.
Then I really did begin wondering when the transition began, because, up until recently, I actually did love the yuletide season the most. I mean, what’s not to love about Christmas? If you’ve been blessed and lucky, it’s got built-in warm fuzzies — childhood memories of anticipation and wonder; fantastical decor that stretches from your living room all the way to street lamps and atop bank buildings; and, of course, a veritable hit parade of a musical soundtrack.
It’s a magical time of year.
(A romantic trap, that. Try not to start a relationship near the holidays. The fireworks can be misleading. Not that I would know. At all.)
I think the change began once my brother moved from D.C. to Florida. Then one of my sisters got married, followed by my brother and then, finally, me. Once everyone began starting families and work responsibilities really began kicking in, it got harder and harder to align time off to get together. What used to be the matter of a few hours’ driving on Christmas Eve became a logistical tangle.
My brother and his wife both worked in retail, so the holiday season was especially packed. (This was around 2000, just as Amazon was becoming a behemoth.) So, rather than have him and his family head to West Virginia for Christmas, all the Mountain State Marambas would truck down to West Palm Beach for Thanksgiving.
When the big week arrived, my baby sister would head off in the minivan with her brood and my other sister, acting as nanny, riding shotgun. I’d travel south from Charleston a day or two later and transfer to my parents’ big SUV in beautiful Beckley en route to an all-night drive down I-95.
As with many things in life, it was as much the journey as the destination that made the road trips worth it. I’d get to catch up with my folks. Later, after I got married, they got to know my wife better. The arrival of our kids was a great opportunity for grandparents time, as they’d all watch the children’s videos and enjoy fast-food breaks along the way.
Thanksgiving Day itself was more of the same, but with cousins, football and plenty of kitchen activity. In all, there’d be 17 of us around the table. Well-fed, healthy, together — there was a lot to be thankful for. Of course, no sooner would we arrive than we’d have to pack our things and head back north.
Come Black Friday, we’d fortify ourselves with tasty leftovers, take group pictures, hugs, hugs and hugs, and then hit the road.
It’s a grueling couple of days. As much I pride myself on being part of a family of road warriors, I began to find any excursion taking more out of me. Entering late middle age, I’m finding the recovery time taking a little bit longer.
But I still looked forward to the day. The opportunity to spend a few precious hours with loved ones, sharing stories with the children, enjoying meals prepared with love and care — that’s what I came to anticipate. That’s the way that my childhood self would look forward to Christmas. I now can’t wait for the gift of time together.
I suppose I could be bitter that the coronavirus has robbed us of the holiday road trip — no Big Macs, no Turkey Trot, no sleepy smiles at the rest stops — and I’d be lying if I said just about everything surrounding this pandemic doesn’t make me angry.
But we’re all still here. In Charleston. In Beckley. In West Palm Beach. If we can ride this one out, with our smaller, homebound gatherings around our separate tables, we — and those we might not even know — could be able to get together again next year. It’s worth waiting for.