by Nicole Skuce from Burnaby, BC
Dec 5, 15
On Christmas Eve, when I was a child, my parents, my sister, and I would dress in our holiday finest and travel to my grandparents’ home. There we would be served a dreaded traditional Austrian meal: breaded sole and potato salad. Once we had suffered through dinner, we would gather in the living room for a family tradition.
Every year before we handed out presents my Oma told us a story. The story of the small Austrian village and the snowy midnight Mass that almost had no music. Mice had chewed through the organ bellows. At the last moment a priest composed a simple melody and accompanied himself on guitar. The song he wrote Stille Nacht – was the carol we knew as Silent Night. Every year, after Oma finished her story, my sister and I would sit at her knee and hold her hands while Stille Nacht played and tears streamed down her cheeks. The carol always made her cry.
When I was a teenager, Oma went home to Austria one Christmas. That year on Christmas Eve, my sister and I called her long distance. When she answered, we played Silent Night for her. Me on the piano and my sister on the flute. We played and Oma cried.
As the years passed, holiday responsibilities shifted to the younger generation. Last year, it was my turn. And there I was on Christmas Eve carefully slicing and marinating potatoes. Breading and frying sole. When I was done we arranged two plates, I buckled my son into his car seat, and we drove to the hospice where Oma was. No one had expected her to make it to Christmas. She had other plans. And so last Christmas my son sat on my knee and held Oma’s hand while we played Silent Night.
Oma died in the new year.
Last Christmas was full of mournful expectation.
This year promises to be full of childish joy. Of traditions new and old. This year I will tell my children about their great-grandmother. My son will help me make cookies while his baby sister watches. He will probably refuse to eat his breaded sole. But he will learn about the church mice in the little village. He will listen to Silent Night with us, and maybe, while he listens he will hold my hand.