Celebrating Another Year Of Goodness

So many of our traditions are marked with the seasons— manifesting quiet dreams in prayer at Watch Night service at the dawn of a new year; clearing out clutter and filling the house with the scent of lemons, pine and bleach in spring; road trips to reconnect with second cousins, great aunts and grandparents at family reunions in summer; and friendly football rivalries and apple picking in the fall.

Each season holds its magic and customs, but none seem to come close to the splendor of the holidays. Before the final autumnal leaves drop and leave bare the branches of trees, most of us have already started planning our Thanksgiving menus, flipped coins on who’s hosting Christmas dinner and made secret calls about who cannot make the greens or potato salad for any of the holiday dinners. (Listen. We love everybody and celebrate the inclusiveness of the season, but some things just cannot be fooled with. And you know Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve meals are on that list.)

But I digress: Let’s return to the holidays and traditions. Ours is a culture of abiding faith, devotion to family, communing through shared meals, preserving our past through oral history and art and, to the contrary of mainstream stereotypes, it is one that values togetherness.

For generations, we have squeezed luggage and children and excitement into station wagons, Amtraks, Grey-hounds and planes bound for “home” to be with the ones we love—the farmhouse where our Nanas and Grandpas brown apples with cinnamon and sugar in cast iron skillets; the high rise where our mothers and fathers still hang our childhood stockings; the cabin where our aunts and uncles taught us to bait a hook and cast a line. We gather in matching PJs to watch A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, This Christmas and The Best Man Holiday, as if it were our first time. And somehow—even decades removed from childhood—we feel like a kid again.

A legacy of gratitude
On stovetops, pots rattle and hiss in tempo with Donny Hathaway reminding us “how much fun it’s gonna be together” and Stevie Wonder promising “such happiness in the comin’ year,” while those of us deemed cooks chop onions, peppers and celery; tap, tap, tap our feet; and laugh in sync. Music and food and generations of oral history stirred together, sipped slowly like still-too-warm hot chocolate. Sweet potato pies and cobblers pulled from the oven welcome loved ones long gone to revisit us through their recipes—heirlooms more precious than Sunday pearls passed down from great-great-grandmothers. We speak their names, tell their stories and punctuate each account with praise and “Thank you, Lord.” It is in the remembering that our ancestors are never forgotten.

It is in the remembering that our ancestors are never forgotten.

Their lessons of struggle, resilience, never-a-lot-but-always-enough and making-a-way-out-of-no-way gifted us with a legacy of perseverance, gratitude and a healthy reminder to always give back. “To whom much is given, much is required.” We replay that mantra and utter it to our children as we fill carts with mittens and warm coats for families in need during the cold winters. We give because someone gave to us, always mindful of the dignity that lies on both sides.

Doorbells ring and cousins uninvited, but always welcome, pile into front doors and line shoes on the mat. Coats that won’t fit into the closets find rest in bedrooms upstairs. Tables are extended and stretched to bring everyone closer; and even when it’s tight, there is always room for family. Because that is the holidays.

It is opening our hearts to give a little more. It is calling that friend with whom you’ve not spoken in months over… who-can-remember? It is looking the other way when Cousin So-and-So packs up the last corner of macaroni and cheese. It is the one time of the year where very little can break our promises to be together.

“Turn down that music and join hands around the table.” The universal call from the matriarch that it’s time to wash our hands, gather and pray. We give praise and honor to God, thanking him for another year of grace, mercy, protection and provision. Again, we call the names of those no longer with us, leaning in and hugging and squeezing tighter the hands of those most in need. Grandpa nudges one of the youngest in the room to close us out in prayer with, “God is great. God is good,” and the older women smile at one another through half-opened eyes, nodding with approval that home training is not lost, knowing their legacy of faith and family will live on.


Dontrey Britt-Hart is the founder of Denim & Damask, a lifestyle blog, and an avid supporter of education, women’s health and the arts through volunteerism, scholarship, and philanthropy. She and her husband, Brett, have three sons and live in Chicago. Learn more at www.denimanddamask.com and IG @denim_and_damask_llc.