by Nelda Holder –
Writing a political column these days is not necessarily the most joyful experience imaginable.
Everywhere you look, there are signs of the fraying of what most of us grew up believing to be a system of government in which we, as citizens, played a very important role. But more and more, the outline of that sober structure has been warped by—or more bluntly—has been consciously bent to the will of self-serving politicians whose focus is not the good of the whole. Meanwhile, warring factions worldwide shatter our consciousness and deepen individual tragedies.
And that sobering assessment is where we’ll begin our column next month, in January of 2024. But right now, it is December 2023 … and we’re taking time out for Christmas.
To do that, I’m inviting you to go back a few … well, more like a hefty number of years now. Because I want to take you to my grandparents’ house in rural Wake County, NC.
It is set amidst massive oak trees with a side yard of pecan trees that we visit faithfully in the fall. Its welcoming front porch is lined with rocking chairs and capped off with a porch swing where I’ve spent many happy hours sidled up to the warmth of my grandmother on summer afternoons.
But it’s winter now, and I’m inviting you inside to the Holder holiday buffet, presented by that same august grandmother—who will produce her famous fresh-coconut cake and her tender and tasty biscuits.
The aunts in attendance will add to the table their own specialties and standards, populating it with tasty casseroles and vegetables from their farm kitchens (originally produced in their farm gardens) to surround the turkey platter. And they’ll load the sideboard with cakes to join the coconut—specialties including chocolate and numerous (and competitive) pound cakes—and with the customary and delectable pot of boiled custard that grandchildren love to hover beside.
After the entire family sings our traditional “Silent Night” blessing, we dig in to our hearts’ content. And following multiple trips to the loaded table, we are finally as well-stuffed as the turkey had been. Then the aunts will whisk away the dishes and spend the Longest Half Hour of the Year washing and hand-drying them while talking and laughing softly to keep gossip out of the range of child ears.
The children owning those ears are impatiently waiting in a cluster by the roaring fireplace and in front of the fat, wild cedar tree from down in Granddaddy’s dairyland pasture. It sparkles while guarding the plethora of colorful packages by the front window of the living room.
Part of the big fun that comes next has to do with not sitting close enough to the fireplace to get singed by the explosion of flames when wrapping paper is tossed into the blaze. But by then we children are everywhere—wanting to eyeball the contents of each and every present box, which we manage to do. There are puzzles, toys, books, all the usuals for us, and for the adults there are more practical items (unless you count the red negligée one smiling aunt receives from her beloved, twinkly-eyed husband). I can still hear the decibel level rise in the room on that occasion.
Granddaddy sits in his green upholstered chair beside the tree, taking it all in and presiding as official Tosser-of-Wrapping-Paper-into-Fire. Grandmother sits on the couch, surrounded by the many presents she has received, or wanders around to look at everyone else’s. She will preside over the family’s hour of singing around her baby grand piano in just a bit.
But first, another round of desserts ensues, and while the adults sedate themselves with sugar, the grandkids don coats and “sneak” outside to present our cherubic faces at the north window of the front room. Looking in on the warmth of fireplace and family, we sing our heartfelt thanks to them—choruses of “Sleigh Bells Ring,” “Jolly Old St. Nicholas,” a “Silent Night” reprise, and “We Wish You A Merry Christmas.”
I wish you a merry Christmas. I wish it to you with the sincerity I felt outside that window so long ago. And within that word—Christmas—which seems to exude its own warmth, I incorporate a wish for joy-filled and peaceful winter holidays, however your family salutes them.
Drink deeply from the well of your own tradition and replenish yourself for the times we are in, and the times ahead of us. And observe, if you are able, the smallest and largest of holiday miracles by lighting your heart with them.
Nelda Holder is the author of The Thirteenth Juror – Ferguson: A Personal Look at the Grand Jury Transcripts.