Thanks to an adventurous spirit handed down from my mother and grandmother, as well as various adulthood obligations, I am often away from home during Christmas.
But, as I recently reflected on past holiday experiences, I realized that I am never without some form of family on this particular day.
Until I was four, Christmas consisted of just three Weflers: Mom, Dad and myself. Grandma and Grandpa were the nice people who loved horses and reading and would always send wonderful gifts, usually of the literary selection. Aunt Judy was the artist whose packages were always quadruple-taped and who entertained the ridiculous idea of marrying Barbie to a frog. I heard about Aunt Kathy and Uncle Sid and probably met them once or twice, though I couldn’t remember. Fairy princess Kaitlyn lived with them, as did my baby cousin Jami.
Aunt Martha was the closest to us in San Diego, along with Dad’s parents. Uncle Andy worked for the government, I was told, though no further details were given. Uncle Eric lived in the mysterious land of Alaska, which may as well have been Narnia until a year later when it was immortalized in the Thora Birch film. Uncle Kevin was a name rarely spoken until a handwritten letter in the later part of my childhood. I knew of Tory, but it wasn’t until MySpace that we connected.
Then, Eileen came, and suddenly my Christmases had to be shared. We went down to Grandma Karen’s and Grandfather Bill’s one time, the only memory that either of us have of Uncle Eric. The holiday was usually spent under the tall ceiling in the living room at our home in Nipomo, California. Nursery school Christmas plays transformed into church performances in two different congregations, purchasing supplies for Operation Christmas Child and school parties.
The year I turned eleven was the first time I remember spending Christmas with my relatives, a tradition that would continue even after I left for college. Christmas Eve meant attending the service at Schweitzer United Methodist, in which both of my grandparents were active members. Christmas Day was held at their farm, with a mound of presents under the tree and lasagna as the centerpiece of a large, delectable spread. There was always the candy tree that legend said the Sugar Plum Fairy brought, though by that time we were old enough to know the truth.
Grandpa died four years after we left California. There was one more celebration at Grandma’s, and then the parties were moved to my mom’s. A few years after John Domeny departed from this world, I went off to college two states away.
I made it home for nearly every Christmas, but the two years that I didn’t, there was a small celebration at Dad’s for the two of us. Then, at Mom’s, the family Christmas gathering moved to a day other than Christmas and Christmases themselves returned to being a smaller affair.
The first Christmas away from both Mom and Dad still included my little sister and our lifelong friend, the oldest daughter of our mother’s longtime best friend. We were far from family, in Orlando, and I had just concluded a shift, but during that hunt for lasagna and due to Kim’s sweet gifts, it didn’t feel like it.
The next holiday away, I was really and truly away. This one happened in Ireland and this time, every member of my family except those distant Italian sixth cousins or whatever were far across the pond. But still, I wasn’t alone. My new friend’s mother invited me and a few other girls to celebrate Christmas with them. We were given gifts, treated to a delicious Christmas meal in the Irish tradition, encouraged to devour sweets and were overall welcomed as part of the family. The woman who hosted would later become like another mother.
Following that Christmas, I was again back at Mom’s and the family party resumed. This year, however, saw me once again working during Christmas Eve. I’d only just started training for a new job and was reluctant to ask for time off. Unfortunately, this meant turning down Uncle Andy’s kind invitation to pick me up on his way from DC to Springfield.
But once again, I was invited for another family Christmas, this time at my great-uncle Dick’s in Mountain Lakes, New Jersey. Grandma was the only one of her siblings to leave home and until I met Aunt Irma, Uncle Eddie, Uncle Dick and Aunt Marie during my adolescence, they were only names on the pages of my great-grandmother’s book.
Spending time with the DeVenezia side by way of Uncle Dick and Aunt Ann was a wonderful experience that felt almost surreal. I stayed with Mom’s cousin Debby and her husband John in Jersey City. Her sister Marie explained to my second cousin Kevin and I the whole extended cousin business in a way that made me finally understand. The six first cousins once-removed were all there, everyone from San Francisco’s John to upstate New York’s Richard, as well as Nick and Brenda. Their spouses were also there: Richard’s wife Jen, Brenda’s husband Rob and John of the Irish blood. I encountered nine second cousins from just Uncle Dick’s side: Kevin, Emily, Lindsey, Stephanie, Tyler, Kristina, Ben, Jack and Josh - the latter of whom I’d met twice before. There was a golden retriever puppy and a ferret. It was big, it was loud, it was full of fast talkers and it was amazing.
But the best part by far was hearing stories of my grandparents from Uncle Dick and Aunt Ann. One of my biggest regrets is not asking Grandma more about her life before she moved to Venezuela and met John Domeny. Her years were written down by her mother, but it would’ve been wonderful to see the world through Helen Patricia DeVenezia Domeny’s eyes. I’m sure she must have a journal somewhere, probably at Kaitlyn’s.
And on the day before Christmas Eve, when I attended Mass with Debby and John, I felt that Grandma and Great-Grandma were both there beside me, singing along to Alleluia.
So Merry Christmas, Joyeaux Noël, Feliz Navidad, Buon Natale, Happy Christmas, Fröhliche Weihnachten, Nollaig Shona, Feliz Natal, Wesołych Świąt, Geseënde Kersfees, สุขสันต์วันคริสต์มาส, 圣诞节快乐, メリークリスマス, 메리 크리스마스, Giáng sinh vui vẻ and whatever else. Happy Hanukkah. May you have a delightful Kwanzaa. Wherever you are or whatever you celebrate, I hope that it’s with a family as extraordinary as mine, whether through biology or created from the heart.