The World Today for December 25, 2017

Dear Readers,

Today is Christmas Day in America, and we are taking a respite from the world’s troubles and, instead, offering a special essay to mark this holiday and all others at this time of the year.

We at DailyChatter wish you a season of peace, happiness and good cheer.

Christmas Day

Biscuits, Grits and Blessings

By Alex S. Jones, co-executive editor

In the 1970s I was editor of my family’s daily newspaper in a small town in East Tennessee. This area had been divided during the Civil War – truly brother against brother – and more than a century later there were still huge political divisions and hard feelings.

But everyone agreed that Christmas was a time to put all that aside. In that spirit, I invited all our readers to submit their “Christmas Memories.” And overwhelmingly, they did, to be shared with everyone. It was genuine common ground, regardless of race, creed, or political passion.

The memories were usually nostalgic, sometimes bittersweet, always heartfelt. We published one each day and then put all of them into a special section on Christmas Eve.

Today’s post is a Christmas Memory of my own, intended to spark a similar happy memory of your own.

Here’s mine:

My grandmother – known by all as Miss Edith – was the publisher of our family’s newspaper. She also wrote the most popular thing in the paper: a weekly column she called Cheerful Chatter. That was her.

In the late 1940s, when I was a small child, she began inviting my parents and her five grandchildren to her home for a Christmas breakfast, which became our family’s most cherished – and unchanging – ritual, and is to this day. My beloved grandmother died more than four decades ago, but her daughter – my mother – carried on the Christmas Breakfast tradition devotedly. (She also carried on my grandmother’s column, but renamed it “cheerful chatter,” in deference to the master.) My parents both died in 2016 at 101, and there was never a year without Christmas Breakfast.

My grandmother, of course, was the benevolent creator of what we came to think of as our family’s holiday sacrament.

In addition to our family, she would invite friends who had no families of their own with whom to celebrate the day. There was Cousin Josephine, my grandmother’s longtime friend and rival to be the town’s grande dame. And Aunt Harriet, who horrified my grandmother and Cousin Josephine by declaring one Christmas that she intended to remarry. She was in her 70s and she did it.

There were a good many gay friends, though it was very much a don’t-ask, don’t-tell era. Little towns like mine were quite tolerant as long as no one had to acknowledge the obvious. I made a point of avoiding one of these folks who had a habit of pinching my behind as a form of greeting.

The Christmas Breakfast ritual was always the same.

The air was usually cold enough to be truly Christmas, and the Smoky Mountains were on the horizon in sharp blue outline.

We gathered in my grandmother’s big living room at 10 a.m. for bloody Marys, real or virgin. The clamor was the embodiment of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, with warm greetings and jolly, indeed cheerful, chatter.

My father was in his Christmas red vest and my grandmother wore a holly corsage. There was a welcoming wood fire in the fireplace, and anticipation of what was to come put everyone in a very festive mood.

At 10:30 or so, we adjourned to the dining room where seats were assigned. The main table was for elders and there were two children’s tables, to which I was consigned until well into my 40s.

The bill of fare never varied: a broiled half-grapefruit, dusted with brown sugar and crowned with a piece of ginger and a maraschino cherry in the middle, scrambled eggs, Tennessee country ham and red-eye gravy, grits, fried apples, buttermilk biscuits, strawberry preserves and endless coffee.

The talk seldom varied: Was the ham (fried of course) as good as it was last year? Please pass the butter. As to biscuits, my grandmother always advised, “Take two, and butter them while they’re hot.” So it went, every year.

After the feast, we went back to the living room for carol-singing, gifts (provided for every person present by my mother), and a picture of us all, including all those in the kitchen who had provided such a great treat. They went home with piles of gifts of their own, in appreciation.

As the years passed, the faces changed, but the Christmas spirit and the ritual itself did not. If you read this on Christmas morning, I shall be having that same breakfast with my family in Tennessee, and I shall have made the biscuits! (The key is White Lily flour.) That job passed to me and is now being handed over to the next generation.

This is, for me, something I consider one of the enduring blessings of my life.

Why such a post today for DailyChatter? Because the spirit of Christmas is one that is a blessing in all its varied forms all over the world, with each religious tradition celebrating the message of “peace on earth, good will to men” in its own way and on its own calendar.

The message is one the world needs desperately, and on this Christmas Day, I hope you will take time to revisit your own memories of the special holiday that means the most to you.

Life is too short to miss out on such a gift.

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