Christmas 1967. We were married nine days. It was our big family Christmas that year in Gary, Indiana (as opposed to the family Thanksgiving which was on opposite years). My new husband and I traveled down there with my parents and brothers.
Dad had a Volkswagon van that the heat never worked in. My feet froze the entire way--coming and going--even though we sat in the very back of the van right on top of the heater. It was a typical Chicago Christmas. Cold, windy, and white.
By the time we reached my aunt and uncle's house, I was more than ready to warm up!
In our family, until you "officially" left home--either by marriage or military service or some such means--you ate dinner at the kids' table. So that was the first year I sat at the adult table and I was very conscious of the fact at eighteen I was now considered a grown woman. It was a lot of changes in a short time.
The hunk had no idea what he was getting into. His family consisted of him, his parents and his sister. My family gathering usually averaged around thirty to thirty-five people. Suddenly he was surrounded by a bewildering array of people who all peppered him with questions in their quest to make him feel at home.
Actually, we were neither fish nor fowl that first Christmas. Newly married (and very young), we certainly weren't part of the older generation. On the other hand, as the first one of my generation that was married, clearly we weren't quite part of the cousins' generation either. It was an odd, uncomfortable gulf.
He had no experience with the type of Christmas we celebrated in our family. His family watched television and had a cold-cut platter for dinner after they opened their presents.
My family served a sit-down feast in the basement, then gathered around the tree to sing Christmas carols and listen to my grandmother read the Christmas story from the Bible. Then Uncle John handed out presents from under the tree. Regardless of the number of family members attending, there was always at least one present for every single person.
I never figured out how they managed that.
By the next family Christmas, other cousins had married and we had a new baby. It was never again quite like that first awkward, grown-up Christmas where I felt a curious kinship to Mary and Joseph, launching into the unknown seas of married life.
This year, for the first time in quite a while, we will be alone--something new and different for us.