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Mary Mitchell column: We’re responsible for kids’ Christmas memories

Updated: January 26, 2012 8:14AM

Christmas always comes to me in the wee hours.

By then, all the presents are wrapped and stacked deep around the Christmas tree. The children are nestled in their beds. Even the dog is snoring,

Christmas finds me in the kitchen chopping bell peppers, celery and onion for the dressing. I am bone tired, but destined to do things the same way my mother did them.

I’m conditioned by memories to stay up all night watching over a turkey even though these days most turkeys are self-basting and come with a button that pops up when it is done.

While the turkey roasts, I make pastry for pies or mix the ingredients for a cheesecake. My Christmas menu hasn’t changed in 40 years: turkey and dressing, ham, macaroni & cheese, sweet potatoes, collard greens, tossed salad, cranberry sauce, homemade rolls, apple pie and cheesecake.

This year I flirted with the idea of serving something entirely different, but decided if I abandoned my traditions, it wouldn’t be Christmas.

My traditions hold me together.

My children are adults raising their own children. Still, I expect them to fully participate in family celebrations and have never considered for a moment that I am being selfish.

For instance, when one of my daughters told me she wasn’t coming to the family’s Thanksgiving Dinner in Milwaukee because she wanted to take her children to the Thanksgiving parade downtown, I was upset.

It didn’t cross my mind that she was ready to start her own family’s traditions; just that she was ignoring mine.

But we all have lapses.

This year, I wasn’t feeling at all Christmassy. With only a week before the big day, I hadn’t set foot in a department store, or even brought the decorations up from the basement.

If my daughter and grandson hadn’t insisted on getting a Christmas tree, I would have been content to hang ornaments on a large houseplant.

They way I observe Christmas is a window into my soul. The Christmas after I ended my chemo treatments was the most joyous that I can recall.

But there have been Christmases when I had to force myself to go through the motions.

Christmas isn’t just tough on people who are down and out, it can also be hard on people who are divorced, who have suffered a loss or who are ill.

Julia Smith, of Julia’s Studio East Salon in Hyde Park, is going through a tough battle with breast cancer. She called me up a few days ago just to talk. She takes comfort in a poem that her granddaughter, Raven Smith, sent her about wishing for a cancer cure.

“This is the first year that I realized that the best gifts which are love, peace, good health and prosperity for all humanity can’t be purchased, wrapped and placed under a tree,” Raven wrote.

“These are gifts that can only come from God and I pray that someday soon this gift will be given to all humanity.”

Because this is the time of year that many of us are able to put our cynicism and our cool aside and come together as a family of believers to celebrate a remarkable birth, it is the perfect time to evaluate how we are living.

After all, without the birth of Jesus Christ, there would be no Christmas.

That is why while we may have been overwhelmed by our long shopping lists and fed up with pushy crowds, we still dug deep for the needy and said “Merry Christmas” to strangers.

On the days leading up to Christmas, the city is a more welcoming place.

Because we are such a diverse city, there are countless traditions marking the holiday season. But one tradition is universal. As parents, we are responsible for creating our children’s positive memories.

Children get over disappointments, but carry the scars of Christmases that were ruined by adults.

It is my hope that my house and your house are filled with peace, joy, and love on Christmas morning.

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