The First Noels
Noel: an expression of joy used at Christmas
My brother wears the 1982 model. Red felt vest, white felt pocket strips on both sides; white felt snowman on the right with beaded eyes and hat and scarf; green felt Christmas tree on the left with ornaments and gold star; three green holly leaves with red sequin berries and tiny gold bells, each sequined decoration held in place by hand stitching. But the signature trait is on the back. Scripted in white felt and held in place by sequin stitches is the word Noel.
Made by my grandmother for her son-in-law Burton and son Billy Bob there were two original Noel vests. Since their debut one has been worn by a man in our family each year at our Christmas gathering. The vest portrays old fashioned handiwork, history, family, legacy, and love. It has become a beloved tradition. Between Christmases it is packed away carefully, awaiting its annual outing.
By the time my husband joined our family my grandmother, Burton and Billy Bob were long passed. But my grandmother’s sewing skills were inherited by my talented sister Marie, and one year she surprised Paul with his very own Noel vest – returning our group to two Noels in the house each year. She duplicated our grandmother’s design right down to the bells and berries, a labor of love in honor of a special lady.
Then last year Marie outdid herself, making G3 versions of the Noel vest for each of my mom’s grandsons and in-laws. Still red felt, still white felt pocket strips, but nothing else on front – those specialties are for G2 only. The backs of the new vests boast custom designs uniquely representing each person. A new tradition born of the old, crafted by hand, bathed in love and prayer.
We have other family traditions of course, as most families do. We draw names for gifting. The young children all sleep together on pallets in one room on ‘Christmas eve’. We still have filled Christmas stockings on ‘Christmas morning’ (whatever December morning we can all be together) and each generation takes its turn opening each person’s handmade stocking with his or her name at the top. We still have grandmother’s ‘trash’, the Chex party mix snack, alongside fudge and cookies at the dessert table. Sometimes we make my great-great grandmother’s recipe for eggnog; usually someone makes my grandmother’s bloody mary recipe. We share memories of Christmases past. Much laughter; great enjoyment of the littles’ excitement over walkie talkies and tea sets and scooters; satisfaction at once again making the gathering happen, where if only for a few hours we focus on family over self.
One day it will be up to our children and theirs whether to continue the gatherings and traditions. I like to think they will continue to make the effort, and that the Noels to come will keep alive the cherished memories of grandmother and The First Noels.