December 25, 2005
On Christmas Eve, most of us in the family gather at my mother's house to do what we do at every holiday – eat and talk. Towards the end of the evening, we have the candle ceremony. I bring boxes of white emergency candles from home and hand them out. My mother and Blond Brother-in-law save the aluminum foil from the plates of cookies, rip it into small squares, and hand each person a square to wrap around the base of the candle.
We crowd into the living room, nineteen of us this year, with six or more piling onto the couch, my parents in their rocking chairs, and everyone else jammed together on the floor. We begin with the room dark except for the soft coloured lights of the Christmas tree.
The tradition, as each person lights a candle, is to say something you are thankful for. The hardest part of the tradition is that if you are one of the people to go last, everyone else in the room has already used the things you were going to say – gratitude for family, friends, good health. I remember the year Boy in Black was born. Blonde Sister began by lighting a candle and saying, “I’m thankful for Boy in Black,” and everyone in the room screamed at her, "No fair! That's the one I was going to use!"
The corny and touching things people say are interspersed with funny and sarcastic speeches from many of the teenagers – and a few of the adults as well. Sometimes the words of gratitude are surprisingly specific: "I'm thankful the transit strike is over." Shaggy Hair Boy always sits next to his favorite aunt, Blonde Sister, and keeps blowing her candle out when she is not looking, just so she will have to keep lighting it again. The youngest children are always eager to light their candles, but then long pauses follow as they struggle for something to say.
Boy in Black was the last person to light his candle this year. By the time it was his turn, the whole room was glowing with little flames. He said simply, "I’m thankful that my family knows me so well that I don't even have to say what I’m thankful for."
Posted by jo(e)