A Mixed Family Christmas

Christmas Eve.

Over my 35 years of life, Christmas Eve has transformed.

As a kid, it was a time of anticipation, excitement and wonder. A born lover of books (thanks to my mom who was always reading to me), my imagination came alive, as I lay in my bed straining to hear footsteps on the roof or a faint jingle of a bell.

My father used to love to tell me about how when we were really little, he did everything while we slept on Christmas Eve, even put up the tree. As we got older, it became our job to put together our fake Christmas tree. I can still picture the huge box with color-coded wire branches. But, my Dad was never far away. Lying on the couch, barking orders and breaking up arguments between my brothers and me.

He cherished the holiday. He would draw it out as much as possible. He would lay in bed forever with the door closed while we sat on the other side begging him to get up, so we could open the presents. In fact, it was the only day of the year he ever stayed in bed past 7am. We would be going crazy by the time he got up, then he would announce some crazy rule like we could only open one present an hour. His own presents, that we had so carefully chose, he would pile around him on the couch refusing to open them until the last possible minute. Even breakfast had to happen right in the middle of opening presents, much to our frustration. I was the pancake maker and my Dad of course was the taste-tester who had to eat nearly the whole first batch. Of course this was to ensure that they were not poisoned and safe for us all to eat.

But our holidays were never religious.

I grew up with a father from a religious Baptist family and a mother from a non-religious Jewish family. My Dad was the only one of his siblings that was not religious, and I never found out why. I guess my parents decided that the best solution was to just leave the religion topic alone and let us figure it out for ourselves. I didn’t realize how unique that was until I took a religion class in college, and the professor looked at me like I was some strange exotic bird. “What do you mean you were raised without religion?!” My parents weren’t rebelling against religion; it was just a non-issue. We had a Christmas tree and lit a menorah and that was that.

When my husband, a Catholic, and I started dating, I was introduced to the Italian Christmas Eve tradition of the 7 fishes. Well, that was great, but I was a vegetarian and had been since the 7th grade. But once we were married, I decided that I wanted to eat all 7 fishes. I wanted to embrace the traditions of his family, as much as I wanted to preserve my own.  Again Christmas Eve changed. We opened presents, drank wine, and ate more fish in one night than I had eaten in my whole life!

Then we started having children. We had so many traditions and cultures that it was overwhelming to think about. With our first child I tried so hard. I read up on Jewish heritage and questioned my husband about Catholic beliefs. I bought books to read to him and craft projects to go along with them. We went to a few churches trying to find the right fit, but I got too nervous to try a synagogue, because I had only ever been to one for funerals.

But the more we thought about religion and tradition the more complicated it got, so for now we just focus on teaching our children to be kind, appreciative and to care about others. And once again, Christmas Eve became about anticipation, excitement and wonder, only this time those feelings centered around our children. Now it was my turn to buy the gifts and hide them carefully. My turn to read my favorite books to them and watch their eyes fill with wonder. My job wrap those gifts late at night while drinking wine and listening to Christmas carols.

And with a new generation came new traditions with the old. Unlike my parents, I had an elf to remember to move. I had reindeer food to make with them and sprinkle across the lawn at night. I had a blog post to compose, while everyone was snoring.

Christmas Eve has changed over the years, but some things remain the same. My love for traditions new and old has endured. A gift that my parents gave me that never needed to be wrapped.

The last Christmas I spent with my father, he didn’t want to leave my house. It was time for me to put the kids to bed, and my parents and brothers were driving back to NY that night. But my father sat on the couch and refused to budge. It got later and later. I put the kids to bed finally, and I was exhausted. I was nearly 9 months pregnant and had 2 little boys.  I was annoyed that he wouldn’t leave until the basketball game on TV was over. My brothers paced in the kitchen with their coats on. My husband glared at me with annoyance. My mom kept sneaking me apologetic glances and saying to my Dad, “Alright Michael, let’s go.”

I didn’t know that less than 2 months later that he would slip on ice in the driveway of our childhood home, the only home we ever lived in. I didn’t know he would hit his head and suffer a subdural hematoma and never recover. I didn’t know it would be the last Christmas for him. But I believe that he did.

People get so caught up in race, religion, tradition, cooking, cleaning, buying, wrapping….but it’s all just on the surface of the memories that we create.

Because tomorrow, at Christmas dinner, my Dad’s absence will be overpowered by his presence. People who give to this world can never really leave it.

19 thoughts on “A Mixed Family Christmas

  1. India says:

    Beautiful post!!


  2. Marci says:

    So moving. Wishing you and your beautiful family a lovely Holiday season filled with cherished memories. xoxo


  3. cathy says:

    I believe I was in the same kindergarten class that your mother taught. I remember they announced they were getting married when I was in gym class.
    The school was Cannan Elementary. Her name was Ms, Flaum (forgot the spelling)
    I loved being in both their classes. Your dad was a great and fun Phys Ed teacher. I loved going to gym in those days.
    I am hoping I have the correct Mr. Washington, but I think I do..
    Must of been around 1968 of 1969.
    Your father inspired me to love sports and play gym.
    Would love to know if this truely the teachers I knew when I went the first time to school.
    Thank You, Cathy Beuscher, Goodwin


    • Paige says:

      I have tears in my eyes. Yes you are correct right down to the spelling of my mom’s maiden name! It makes me so happy to hear your good memories. I am sure my mom remembers you. She never forgets any of her students. They inspired me to become a teacher too! I hope you are doing well. Thank you!


      • cathy says:

        I’ m so glad to hear this. It was many years ago, but out of all my memories I will never forget your father or mother.
        They both were inspiration for me.
        I remember crying and not wanting to got to school for the first time and how your mom talk to me and calmed me down to get me into the class.
        Your dad spent time with me showing me how to shoot a basket ball the correct way. He taught me how to play hockey and I still love it till this day.
        You are blessed to have such good parents
        May god bless you and your family!!!


      • Paige says:

        My mom will love to read this. Teachers are such a gift and you are right that it is even better to be “gifted” two great ones for parents. Thank you.


    • tweetmom17 says:

      Hi Cathy. Sure I remember you and your sister, Sherri! Mr. Washington and I got married in 1974 and one of us had to leave. Married teachers were not allowed to work in the same school at that time, so I left Canaan and went to Tremont, then taught at Eagle Drive and finally at Barton. I retired from Barton in 2002 after teaching for 34 years. Always had lots of fun with you little guys!


      • cathy says:

        wow can’t believe that you do remember. after all the children I’m sure you have taught.
        So glad your daughter started this blog. Love hearing the togetherness your family has.
        I will always remember you and your husband, it was the start of me going to school.
        Thank You for the good memories I have of my first day of school.


  4. Lisa says:

    Your dad was a great man…..made gym so much fun!!! I remember how he pushed us to do better and how excited he got when I climbed that rope up to the ceiling and tapped the top before coming down….carefully as to not burn my hands by coming down too fast!

    He was the first “black” man I ever met….and I remember thinking…he’s not so bad!! Lol ….he made me realize at a very young age that everyone was the same…no matter what ” color” you were!!

    He signed my autograph book first…and I still have it! I talked to your mom on FB the other day and she told me about him passing….I’m so sorry for your loss! Your story is so touching and it really shows that he never changed…..he was as cool of a dad as he was a great teacher!!! Hold on to those memories….


  5. Marsha Papanek says:

    what a lovely story you told about yoUr family! Your Facebook post caught my attention when You said Your father was a phys ed teacher in Patchogue for such a long time, as was my mother, Carol Papanek, in. South ocean ave. I didn’t knOw either of Your parents, which is understandable since I never lived there when Canaan ave was in existence. obviously I’m quite a bit older than You are! But perhaps my mother knew Your folks, she taught until the mid nineties, or maybe You even had my mom if you went to south ocean.
    in any event I just wanTed to let you know that I liked yoUr post and that I’m sorry that I didn’t knOw you or your family, sound like a pretty good one!
    merry Christmas.


    • Paige says:

      Thank you Marsha. My mom reads this so we will see. She has an excellent memory. My father coached basketball at South Ocean and my Aunt Evie taught at phys ed at the high school. So probably somehow connected. Thank you for your kind words!


  6. Paige says:

    Thank you for your comments. I love hearing these stories and I know he would too. He LOVED his job. There are a few more posts on my blog about him that really fit well with your comments. I think your comment about him being the first “black” man you ever met is so important. Particularly is today’s crazy world, race relations will only improve one positive relationship at a time.


  7. Kelly Miglino-Trankina says:

    I remember first meeting your dad at Medford Avenue my first year of teaching in 1995. I came in on a bad year when tenure was being challenged and things were tense. I started off laughing at your article because I can picture him doing each and every thing you said. Your dad had a presence and he made it known. He new I was the beginning teacher and in his own way tried to make me feel comfortable with his own twist of sarcasm. Then I met your mom at Barton and said yup just what he needs someone to flap their hand in his face and laugh off when he’s being difficult. Mom is a love. I didn’t get to know your dad well but when I heard of his passing it was like the unimaginable. How could someone so tall and energetic yet teddy bear like just go away. Your last paragraph made me cry like a baby. So powerful! However, it explains him. I still think about him. I still picture his presence in a room and hear that distinctive voice. He could be a jokester alright! Thanks for sharing this. In a way it was closure for me. Merry Christmas!

    Liked by 1 person

    • tweetmom17 says:

      Thanks Kelly……I’m still working a little at Saxton special-ed office on pre-school special-ed.committees but I just can’t seem to stop by Barton on the lunch break. The last time I did stop by and asked in the faculty room if anyone was having fun, I didn’t even get a smile! I think that was the last time I was at Barton….I sometimes eat a quick bagel in the parking lot and go back to Saxton. Your kids are beautiful….saw them on facebook! Have a very Happy New Year! Paula ☺


  8. Thomas Molloy says:

    I had Mr. Washington for a gym teachet at Canaan Elementary. I loved him. What a presence he had. So sorry to hear he has passed. Good luck with your family and keep tradition with the feast of the 7 fishes. Religion will find you, dont worry about it. In the mean time thank you for the great memories of my childhood and your dad.

    Tom Molloy


  9. Stewart Beller says:

    My brother Howie was very close to your dad My brother told me he really enjoyed talking to my brother about sports often My brother loved playing the horses and said your dad was a real good handicapper on who was going to win. I remember going to the Otb and Roosevelt raceway seeing your dad there I would ask him who he likes he would tell me then explain why the horse has a chance of winning. All I know was my brother had so much respect for your dad whenever he mentioned his name my brother would say Mr Washington told me this which meant it must be true a man of honor and respect


  10. Kelly Newman says:

    I had your dad when I went to school at Canaan. I always loved to go to class. When I wet to Canaan he had started a Drill Team that I belonged to. I even remember the jackets that we used to have for it. Your dad was like he big teddy bear but also pushed us to do better because he knew we could. I also remember his sense of humor. I now work at River elementary school in the computer technology area. Your dad was subbing and I couldn’t wait to go and see him. After all those years that passed he still remembered me. We reminisced and he asked about my family and kids. He subbed quite a few times there and I loved going and talking to him. Seeing him with the kids brought back so many memories of when he was my teacher. I was very sad when I heard of his passing. He was a great man and I could tell how much he loved to teach. I’m deeply sorry for your loss


  11. tim b says:

    Mr. W was a great teacher, and heck I don’t leave either until the game is over.


  12. Anna says:

    I had your dad at Canaan also. He was one of the nicest, most respected teachers I ever had. I was very shy back then. Some boys were picking on. E and your dad heard it. He jumped to my defense
    And put them right in their place. I never forgot that. I always wanted to thank him. It was around 40 years ago. Since I can’t thank him, I will thank him through you. He was a good man. You were lucky to have him!


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