Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas with Grandma Elizabeth R Himan

When I met Elizabeth R Himan, she had already lost her husband, had a heart attack, and was already battling her diabetes daily. So for me to describe Christmas with Mrs. Himan is very limited.
But as I reflect on Christmases since being with Tony, I am acutely aware of how different we experienced our families Christmas traditions.

Mrs. Himan was a devote Catholic. Church and religion were a very important part of her Christmas.
The Pope’s Christmas Eve Mass, Midnight Mass at the Church, Family staying up all night, Portuguese-Hawaiian food, Her religious figurines, and the visiting of the family gravesites is what I remembered of Mrs. Himan’s Christmases.

I can only give my account because I know little, previous to my involvement with the family. I do hope with time Hank and/or Tony will share more memories of family Christmas traditions. Not being Catholic, nor Portuguese, nor from Hawaii I am very aware that a lot was happening around me that I did not understand.

The first clue to me that this was not my usual WASP Christmas was the timing and reverence allowed in the afternoon of Christmas Eve. All activities stopped, all radios silenced, as everyone gathered in the living room to listen to the Christmas Eve Mass by the Pope. Mrs. Himan would have the most comfortable chair placed directly in front of the television. Mrs. Himan by this time had some loss of hearing, so everyone was still and children were allowed to play outside in the backyard so she could hear the mass. Every year the Pope spoke of a concern, or plea to the people to keep in mind certain directives of the church. I knew this message was important to understand. The rest of the year centered on the cause and directive supported at the Christmas Mass.

Midnight Mass at the Church was another deviation from my traditional WASP celebrations. After the message of the Pope everyone was anxious to take naps and relax.

In contrast, with WASP thinking I was anxious to encourage lots of play for the children, fill their tummies with warm comfort food, bathe and put them in their Christmas pajamas so the children would be nice and tired for a peaceful night of sleep. By 10 pm I was tired, cranky and my bed sang to me. I knew I still needed to stuff stockings. Pick up the house and prepare for an early wake up call.

At 10 pm, everyone who knew, began to shower and dress in Church finery.

There were a few raised eyebrows as to why I was putting pre-teen boys in pajamas to go to church. Mass was long and I was tired. Like all of us, our traditions are so ingrained, no one thought to tell me how to prepare for this change in plans. Finally we get home, no one needs to ask the children to go to bed -- it is 1:30 am and their beds are singing to them. Another few eyebrows as to why I was sending the children to bed and not allowing them to now share in the family gathering.

The family napped during the day and is fully rested. The kitchen is a buzz with cooking and preparations. Strange smells of Portuguese meats marinating for days in wine, garlic, vinegars and strong spices fill every corner in the house. Hawaiian fish and delicacies are placed on every flat table surface available. Every surface already not occupied by beautiful elaborately decorated religious figurines. Alcohol is freely poured. Even the children are encouraged to dip their bread in the wine as their relatives from the OLD country had done so for generations. The family is prepared to enjoy an all night feast and gathering of family and friends. Dear family and family friends start dropping by -- it is after 2 am. They all know good food, plenty of drink and wonderful social time is to be found in this location of Sunnyvale, California.

Beautiful elaborately decorated religious figurines and religious pictures filled the rooms of the house. Family and friends would pass by the figurines admiring the craftsmanship or decorative placement of the remembrance of the season. Each aunt and uncle filled their own homes with these statues and icons. Sometimes people would stop to pray or just cross themselves as they walked by. The place of honor in the house would be the middle of the living room where the full size baby Jesus would lie in a manager complete with straw and animal figurines.
There was a BIG scandal about the baby Jesus. I remember my sister-in-laws took me aside one day. They were very nervous to talk to me. They were unsure of my reaction. They kept telling me they tried to get their mother to stop it. They did not want me to be upset. They had failed to convince their mother to stop it. I could not imagine what they were talking about. Then they told me, Tony’s mother was having our children kiss the baby Jesus. I was not offended. I knew Tony’s mother truly loved our children. I knew she truly prayed over and wanted only the best for the children. I did not understand it all --- but I knew it was a way for this grandma to share her religion, beliefs, and love with her grandchildren. In a way, I was honored. The religious figurines are featured in many family stories of this family. I hope to blog these stories later. Not to embarrass anyone or place blame. But just to share to the next generation a little of the rich, wonderful history of the Himan family.

Which brings me to the motivation to write this blog. I am involved in genealogy and such have befriended many other genealogist and genealogy societies. Our task today was to blog about :
Advent Calendar - Day 3 - Christmas and Deceased Relatives
On the 3rd Day of Christmas
My true love said "I'm sad,
Let's go see your mom and dad."

1) Did your family visit the cemetery at Christmas?

2) How did your family honor deceased family members at Christmas?

My family does not visit the cemetery ever ---- let alone Christmas. But Tony’s family were very keen on visiting and placing flowers on the graves of their deceased. Candles were lit regularly at the church especially at Christmas and on their birthdays. And so it went just as my WASP family was starting to wake up and get ready for the yells and screams of children unwrapping and exploring their toys, Tony’s family would prepare to quietly go visit the Heaven’s Gate cemetery up in the Los Altos Hills and visit their relatives. They would go home and come later about 4 pm for Christmas Dinner. All the kids, my family and more friends would come to enjoy a meal that Tony and I would have prepared all day.

Looking back I must agree that Christmas was always a lot of strain on Tony and I. But looking back all these years later, maybe I am starting to realize why…..

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