A Holiday Season That, Now More than Ever, Embraces the Past

Lasting treasures.

  • Category
    Homes, People
  • Written by
    Lisa Harris
  • Illustrated by
    Nikki Smith

Everyone has their favorite holiday traditions, whether it’s your mom’s delicious turkey or your uncle’s hangover-inducing eggnog. And sure, there are the stresses: the overspending, the overeating, and those annoying moments like when you’re cornered by your aunt who always asks the same question: “Why are you still single?”

But for me, holiday joys exceed the stresses. And this year I’m feeling particularly nostalgic. Maybe it’s because we live in such unpredictable times, but I’m appreciating more than ever the innate comfort of familial holiday moments. 

As a child, I knew the season was upon us when Mom took down a certain old cardboard box, dented and bent from years of little hands rummaging through the holiday tchotchkes and knickknacks. “Remember this?” we kids would squeal, as we picked out our favorite things: the Santa drawings we made in second grade; glittered macaroni shells under globs of Elmer’s glue; Mom’s tarnished lion menorah soiled with melted wax; the familiar scent of pine cones and stale candy canes. Ah, the holiday box in all its wonder. 

I also clearly remember the drive along Ventura Boulevard, my face pressed against the fogged-up window, rows of Christmas trees lined up like soldiers. Getting the tree was always a family tradition, but in our house it wasn’t always referred to as a tree. “Remember, kids,” Mom would state as she pulled up to the lot. “If Grandma asks why we have a Christmas tree, you tell her it’s a Chanukah bush. Got it?”

Dad would do the honors of dragging in the tree, its fragrant needles blanketing the living room floor. A Johnny Mathis Christmas record would be playing on repeat. I remember the flick of the match lighting the candle on the menorah and the aroma of Mom’s famous latkes filling the air as family arrived. Grandma would bring her annual box of See’s candy, which would be devoured in a matter of seconds, save for one half-eaten vanilla walnut fudge piece. Hours after the gluttonous feast, the traditions continued. We’d jump in the car, dressed in our finest footed pj’s and matching Snoopy blankets, and drive down Oxnard Street in Woodland Hills to Candy Cane Lane. 

I’ll never forget the last holiday we spent with Grandma before she passed. She was hunched over her walker, her body curved in a perfectly shaped U. Opening a pair of new slippers, she quipped, “You know, you don’t have to get me anything. What the hell do I need? I have all this stuff. It’s just stuff, and you can’t take it with you. It’s not important, not one bit.” She paused for a moment and then delivered a line that still reverberates in my head: “You know what’s important? The moments and memories. Now those you take with you.” And I’ve done just that, Chanukah bush and all.

Lisa Harris lives in Westwood with her husband, two kids, and two pugs.