Midwest Voices

Steve Johnson: Holidays draw families closer to each other

Despite the rain, people gathered to watch the 86th annual KCP&L Plaza Lighting Ceremony on Nov. 26 at the Country Club Plaza. For many families, seeing the lights go on is a tradition, signaling that the Christmas holidays are not far away.
Despite the rain, people gathered to watch the 86th annual KCP&L Plaza Lighting Ceremony on Nov. 26 at the Country Club Plaza. For many families, seeing the lights go on is a tradition, signaling that the Christmas holidays are not far away. tljungblad@kcstar.com

The holidays in Kansas City blend great traditions with new experiences, familiar faces and fresh perspectives.

Every family has special traditions they cherish and share. There is the majesty of Handel’s “Messiah,” the redemption of Dicken’s “Christmas Carol,” the elegance of Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker,” colorful lights, Topsy’s popcorn, wreaths and candy canes or kids awaiting Santa’s sleigh. Americans also help those in need.

We salute our heroic veterans and America’s fearsome military protecting us from the terror of the Islamic State. Families are as tapestries, each person a thread woven into the story. Our family has a print of the earthen dugout where my great-great grandfather Martin spent his first winter near Salina, Kan., after coming from Denmark; his wife saw July 4 fireworks over the Statue of Liberty.

What an amazing journey they experienced in America: from humble immigrants that first winter, to my beloved late grandparents, who met at the University of Kansas after World War II, and now millennial cousins exploring a new century together. For many years, Grandpa would carve the turkey and serve cold duck or sparkling grape juice, while grandmother prepared gourmet delights.

Thanksgiving night we welcome the holiday season with the Plaza lights. This year, we relished the Royals being crowned World Series Champions and joined the sea of blue at the Liberty Memorial and Union Station to celebrate our great city.

For us, Thanksgiving also begins the Advent season, a liturgy exploring our faith’s connective tissues, meditating on echoes of the Old Testament prophets in the New Testament nativity story. We greet the postman and receive Christmas letters, while writing many of our own Christmas cards.

Many a Christmas Eve featured cherished time and memories with my other beloved late grandparents, a homemade steak soup dinner, and watching Irving Berlin’s classic “White Christmas” film. But as they, too, have now reached the Jordan’s distant shore, our family began a new Christmas Eve tradition, attending the church’s midnight service after the film.

We join others singing carols and reading Scripture, and then sing “Silent Night” by candlelight (like the Christmas Truce of 1914, dramatized in the “Joyeux Noël” film). As the moonlight of Christmas Day glimmers, we wish each other Merry Christmas, and leave the stone sanctuary to hear church bells ringing across Brookside, and head home “for a long winter’s nap.”

Christmas Day we celebrate by exchanging gifts wrapped beneath the bright tree, aglow with lights and ornaments, each with a story to tell of years gone by. As snow (hopefully) fallsoutside, we sit around the crackling fire, the fragrant aromas wafting through the den, and enjoy an egg nog and whisky cocktail. Generations grow stronger, as carols fill the festive air, cousins, siblings, spouses and youth reminisce on past glories and savor these precious moments, memories frozen in time, with a hopeful eye to the future.

For Christmas dinner, we say grace and raise a champagne toast to honor loved ones who have gone before and to celebrate our family. We wear paper hats and wish each other “Happy Christmas” (a nod to our British roots) as we enjoy oyster stuffing (a Danish side dish). Delicious food, mirth and fine times are shared, some evoking our Scottish and Irish ancestry.

These are our family’s holiday traditions, filled with memories, love and joy, welcoming the new while loyal to the past. As the Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote, “Joy rises in me, like a summer’s morn: Peace, Peace on Earth! The Prince of Peace is born.”

From our family to yours, enjoy a wonderful holiday season with loved ones.

Steve is a lifelong Kansas Citian and Royals fan, an attorney, and a graduate of K-State and KU. Email him at steve@johnsonlawkc.com or follow him on Twitter: @fountainpenlaw.

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