Communique: Family Folklore For The Holidays | Commentator Gwenyfar Rohler

Dec 24, 2018


Commentator Gwenyfar Rohler was asked to return to WHQR's "Homemade Holiday Shorts" this year to tell a personal holiday tale. She was delighted to participate, but she struggled writing a story. So she started reminiscing.

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I had been struggling. I've been trying to mine our family life for good material. Here are two of the titles I considered for this year: "The Year My Grandmother Came to Ruin Christmas"-it's catchy, right? And then the other one was "Whoosh," which is a story about the year of the Menorah set the Christmas tree on fire. I mean, you basically have two holidays that any home safety officer would strongly advise against combining ... one that involves very oily food and candles and the other that involves a highly flammable dry tree in the middle of the living room. Fire extinguishers have figured heavily into most of my holiday reminiscences after the age of 11.

It's really hard to explain the way my mother got into the holidays. Years after she passed, my father was very disappointed that I couldn't reproduce the same holiday spectaculars that she did. And somehow, while working full time and taking care of my father's parents, and managing our household and coping with a very irritating teenage daughter, she's still not only decorated the house beautifully, shopped for a mountain of gifts, but also produced multicourse feasts for Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year's Day. And here I can't even manage Thanksgiving. But she had a grand house that she loved to decorate and a dining room with a table that would pull out to seat 18. In the weeks leading up to the holidays, my parents bedroom turned into what looked like a holiday themed scale model of the D-Day invasion. One couch was Hanukkah. Everything was decked out in blue and silver paper with dreidels and stars of David. The desk in the dresser in the room held boxes are arranged like battlements with names and labels and green, red, and white.

One of our family traditions revolved around my mother's complete and total inability to throw away anything that had a potential purpose ahead of it. Therefore, the same boxes and wrapping paper had been making their way through holidays and birthdays for as long as I could remember. You learned not to be excited or misled by what the box said. It was probably not a CD player, for example, but more likely slacks or a sweater. Over the years, my father and I had each been gifted, several watches that were wrapped in the same rectal thermometer box. My senior year of high school. We were expecting a house full of out of state guests, including on Christmas morning. "Are you going to give them stockings on Christmas morning?" I asked casually while chatting with my mother a few weeks ahead of the arrival. And then I caught myself. And I amended. "Is Santa going to bring them stockings on Christmas morning?"

It had long been an open secret in our household that Santa Claus was my mother. The year I confronted her about her role as Santa and demanded that she own up to the truth with all of my childlike sense of outrage and righteous indignation, she looked at the ground and she shook her head and she said quietly, "Well, if you don't believe in Santa, then we just won't have Christmas. Because there's no point."

There is a lot of pressure as an only child. Other people do not fully understand the extent of it, but when you are informed that your continued belief in Santa Claus is the basis for the entire family celebration of Christmas and that your parents and your grandparents are both counting on you to make this happen, you go along with it. And so up until her death, when I was 20 years old, my father's mother called me every Christmas at 6:30 PM to remind me to go to bed early so that Rudolph could come. And every year, I promised I would.