It was Christmas Eve and I could not sleep. Of course, as a young child, I anticipated what would be under the Christmas tree with my name on it. But more than that, I was waiting to hear my uncle’s voice. Every Christmas Eve, my father’s younger brother was at our house, sometimes fairly early in the day but more often than not, he arrived pretty late.
This year was no exception.
Christmas in our home meant lots of family and friends would visit our home. The sideboard in the dining room was always loaded down with baked goods like caramel cake, coconut cake, pies, rolls and lots of Christmas cookies and folks would help themselves to their goodness. Laughter and loud voices would zing throughout the house while the kids played games.
But when my uncle walked through the door….for me, it was officially Christmas. He always brought us gifts but the gifts were not important. He was just THERE, if that makes any sense. He told great stories of the past and he and my parents would laugh together over those memories. The house was alive and to me, his arrival represented the true spirit of Christmas.
It was getting pretty late and he had still not arrived. I got a bit anxious, wondering if he had been delayed or even worse, thinking he would not show up this year. I could hear my parents trying to speak in soft voices as to not wake us (but who was asleep)? They were putting gifts together and wrapping them and all the while, I wondered not what was in those packages but if my uncle would be there for Christmas.
Suddenly, I heard a car in the driveway. The door slammed and I heard his laugh. He made it! My parents welcomed him into the house and I heard him apologize for his lateness. I don’t think it mattered to any of us.
As the night wound on, he and my dad put gifts together while they talked about old times. They listened to “Silent Night”, sung by the Temptations. I listened as long as I could before my eyes just could not stay open any longer.
Christmas morning was always a nice hot breakfast and then ripping into gifts while the grownups stood off to the side. But you know what? I don’t remember what I got that year. The memory that stays with me is the one of our family, together.
My uncle is no longer with us, as are many members of our family who used to frequent our home on the holidays. I think of them during the holidays and miss them terribly. My thoughts are not occupied by “things” but of what exists no longer.
When the wrapping paper is torn to shreds and the old toys are replaced with the new ones, when the Christmas decorations have been packed away and the hustle and bustle of what has become the holiday season has faded, what memories will you have? Will you remember Christmas as a chore, wishing it were over? Or will the holidays represent a time of love and togetherness?
I want to share one of my favorite Christmas morning recipes with you. I put this together on Christmas Eve and I just pop it in the oven on Christmas Day.
Overnight French Toast Casserole
½ cup butter, melted
Bread, cut into cubes (I use French Bread or Pepperidge Farm White Bread, but use what you have)
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. vanilla
1 ½ cup milk
Melt the butter and pour in a 13 x 9 in pan. Mix the sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg in a small bowl. Whisk the eggs, milk and vanilla in another bowl. Layer the bottom of the pan with half of the bread. Sprinkle half of the sugar mixture over the bread. Layer the second half of the bread. Pour the egg mixture over the bread. Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight. The next morning, loosen the ends of the foil and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Uncover, dot with butter and bake 15 more minutes. Great with maple syrup!