Each year at Christmas Eve dinner, my grandmother sings an operatic rendition of ‘O Holy Night.’
Her wavering crescendo has been the soundtrack to every holiday, paired with a chorus of laughs from the kid’s table.
A younger me would stifle laughter while avoiding my cousin’s eyes since the gaggle of us could never keep a straight face past “a new glorious morn!”
What’s so funny about the carol? I haven’t the slightest idea, but after a while even the anticipation of the song could make me chuckle.
Through the years, my grandmother’s sensitivity to our laughter rose and fell with the melody, laughing along with us at the end or scorning us and swearing this was the last year she would sing (it never was).
I found a surefire way to avoid my cousins’ eye contact though — move to Alaska.
I’ve spent the past two Christmases listening to my grandmother croon about the weary world rejoicing through my phone’s speaker, but that’s all I hear.
My cousins have kids of their own now, still too young to see the hilarity in it all, and my brother has gotten good at donning stoicism.
And me? I’m busy hodge-podging together a Christmas celebration of my own in Seward, a town full of potlucks and White Elephant exchanges.
This Christmas Eve was a bit different than ones with Grandma. Pizza was the main course and Fast and the Furious was the soundtrack to a gift exchange with newspaper taped around thrift store or back-of-the-closet finds. A far cry from a night divine, my dad’s steak dinner and Aunt Sue’s perfectly wrapped, gifted homemade bread, but it was Christmas just the same.
On Christmas Day, instead of waltzing down the stairs to my dad brewing a pot of coffee to lure my brother, mother and I awake, I made my own coffee and opened the gift my parents sent to me by way of USPS. (The Seward post office employees work harder than Santa or any elf in the days leading up to Christmas.)
Then I went out and skied, just like I did last year.
It’s not a tradition in the traditional sense — “a belief or behavior passed down within a group or society with symbolic meaning or special significance.”
Last year, I skied around the Kenai Wildlife Refuge while on the phone with my dad. This year, I skied around Trail River with a friend and some borrowed dogs, saying ‘Merry Christmas’ to every person we skied past.
It wasn’t passed down to me, but it’s gained a special significance. It’s a way to get out of the house in the middle of Christmas Day. It’s a way to bring myself joy when I’m so far away from all the familial traditions I grew up with, so far from the family that can find laughter in the oddest of places.
It’s a way to slow down in the midst of the holidays, by skating along the trails in a true winter wonderland.
It’s a way to fill the time I used to spend trying out all the latest toys and gadgets Santa had left under the tree, after the excitement of unwrapping and before the comatose from a second holiday meal.
And this year, like last, the snow was great, the trails were fun and I got home tired and hungry.
But before I could head to the next potluck of the Seward holiday season, I had to dig through my house for one last White Elephant gift (I went with the unwanted cactus on my shelf) and wash the snow fueled sweat off my skin.
And I’m sure, if anyone had heard me singing in the shower, they would’ve been stifling a laugh or two.
“A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn
Fall on your knees oh, hear the angel voices
O night divine, O night when Christ was born”