As a resource centered around hosting and entertaining, we absolutely love sharing our passion of tablescapes, interior design, recipes and more with you; however, you might also know that the heart behind The Busy Bee isn’t so much in the pieces we share, but with the people who have shown us the significant impact of connection with others and inviting people in. We’ve shared about our own grandmothers, Mimi and Nana, and the special holiday traditions and memories we cherish and continue to make with them – and we still plan to share more of these stories with you!
Today, however, we’re sharing not our own story, but one of someone you might have heard of before: Laurie, our Content Manager! In the story below, you’ll hear a little bit about her grandmother and how she plans to make sure her legacy is carried on each Christmas season.
Shannon & Jenna
Holiday Traditions: What Elvis Has To Do With Christmas
A Story About Nanny
It’s 2001 and my grandfather, Papa, is walking circles around the tree with lights tangled in his hands. A CD of Elvis Christmas plays on my mother’s disc player and my sister and I are looking at the ornaments, ready to decorate once the lights are up. We bicker briefly on whose ornaments are whose, because no one can quite remember ownership year-to-year, unless a name’s engraved on it. My sister finds the little Santa and Mrs. Claus figurines that she always hangs on two close branches, making them kiss. I had no interest in these little kissing ornaments, so I let her have that one, allowing the argument to dissipate into quiet murmurs at each other.
My mother walks about, helping with lights and ornaments and probably also getting dinner ready. It’s early evening, and when you’re in New England in December, it means it’s pitch dark outside. When Papa finishes wrapping the lights around and around again, the tree is lit, and the soft glow of the tiny lights instantly makes my heart flutter. It’s the holidays again, and the magic is about to begin. Finally, my sister, mother and I begin decorating the tree with our half-homemade, all-sentimental ornaments.
All the while my grandmother, Nanny, sits on a couch, diagonal from the tree. She hasn’t moved since she came in an hour ago and sat down. She doesn’t get up to help situate the lights or hang an ornament on the tree. She doesn’t even place a single Christmas decoration anywhere. She really hasn’t done anything at all – except direct.
To my grandfather, “Paul, no, there needs to be more lights over there. There’s nothing there.”
To my sister and me, “Girls, right there. Yup, right there. Now go down. Stop! You need an ornament right there.”
To my mom, “Sue, move those ornaments over a bit. Yes, now add one above it to the left.”
Nanny was the director of Christmas. She lovingly told us what we missed, what needed to go where, and what we still needed to do. She also directed the music choice too, with Elvis being the premiere option, though none of us complained. She absolutely loved the King of Rock n Roll and his iconic style and voice (and rumor has it, she and her sister sobbed when he died many decades ago). She also had an affinity for nutcrackers, and I’d clandestinely played with her collection while trying not to gag over the smell of the bowl of walnuts, chestnuts and pine nuts she’d always set out next to it. So many years later, I still have a sensory memory of that bowl of nuts and my thoughts of trying to figure out how a nutcracker could actually crack a nut.
Christmas Without Our Director
Because Nanny was never really physically active during our Christmas traditions, I never realized how much I’d forever associate her with the holidays when I got older. She passed away in 2010, a few months after I had graduated from college and had moved to Florida. That December, when I flew up to Connecticut, we had our first Christmas without our Christmas Director, and the impact of Nanny being gone hit hard. There was a silence none of us liked. A chirping of orders that was absent. And a sudden need to make sure the things she loved about Christmas – Elvis, nutcrackers, and perfectly placed lights and ornaments – were still happening.
Years have passed and now I have a son, Liam, who’s six years old. He never shared this Earth with Nanny. In fact, almost exactly five years elapsed from her passing to Liam being born. As my son’s first Christmas came about, I felt a dilemma arising: how will he ever know the wonder of Nanny? How will he ever feel the comforting presence she brought to every Christmas? I felt a deep sadness and hopelessness, wondering how I could connect generations that’ll never know each other.
I had to keep her spirit alive. But how?
And then it came to me: Elvis. Nutcrackers. A passion for equally dispersed lights and ornaments.
Moving Forward with Nanny (& Elvis)
My son would know Nanny, not through time well spent, but rather traditions well kept. I would insist on making the lighting and decorating of the tree a family affair. I would start collecting nutcrackers and let my son set them up, allowing him to grow an affinity for the little soldier men (sans the bowls of nuts, of course). And Elvis would ring through the house and Liam would know the pitches and beats that fell into each other as the “A” side of the vinyl filled the space in our home.
It’s 2021, but there’s a bit of 2001 in my home every Christmas. There’s a piece of Nanny here as I carefully place the vinyl in the record player. There’s a bit of her voice that comes through me as I tell my family we need to adjust the lights just one more time. And there’s a smidgeon of her love of nutcrackers in my home as my son organizes the eight we currently have, knowing she would be absolutely delighted by the sight.
I miss my grandmother the most this time of the year. I miss her in every note Elvis sings and every twinkly light on my Christmas tree. But I take solace in knowing she’s still here through the traditions we keep going. My son knows her touch, her voice, and her love, even though he’ll never meet her. That’s a pretty incredible thing that simple traditions like these allow us to do for our children – and for us, the ones who miss and yearn for just one more Christmas together.
Holiday Traditions: A Way to Connect and Heal
Someday, my son will ask why we listen to a singer who lived sixty years ago every Christmas. He’ll ask why we started collecting nutcrackers and why I care so much about how the lights look on the tree. And, at that time, I’ll sit him down and tell him all about Nanny, his great grandmother, and how she made Christmas what it was meant to be. And then his traditions will connect with her traditions – and just like that, we’ve bridged generations that never simultaneously walked on Earth. My heart is full just thinking of it, and I know Nanny feels the same.
It doesn’t happen quickly or with grand gestures. Rather, traditions are kept alive through small acts of our own cherished memories. The loved ones we have lost are kept alive through these small acts: through a song, a tiny figurine, time well spent with family.
Maybe that’s how we can heal when we lose a loved one. Because as much as it hurts to not hear Nanny’s voice or see her sitting by the Christmas tree each year, it also feels like I’m making her proud and honoring her by holding her favorite things so close to my heart and sharing them with her great grandson.
So, my son will never meet Nanny, but he will know her.
I’ll always love and miss my favorite Christmas Director, especially every December, but she will never be forgotten. Nor will Elvis. And Nanny wouldn’t want it any other way.