The Best Holiday Gift of My Mother’s Amid Joyful Holiday Songs.

Jo Durocher • Dec 2021 • 4 min read


Giving presents hasn’t always been my mother’s forte. While she’d often come ask for suggestions on what to put under the tree for me, there is one holiday gift she pulled off on her own that might stand out as the best one I ever received. I enjoy it every year, amid the season’s cheer and holiday songs. 

Looking back, I realize the holiday season was an anchor throughout my youth. My mother would kick it off with her stash of holiday records and sing along pretty much all day, all December.

“Mommy, can we play something different?” I’d ask once in a while, as if I hadn’t learned from my useless efforts over the years.

“Nope!” she’d respond joyfully. “Tis the season and holiday songs we play!”

“Holiday songs we play!” she claimed.

In the living room, on our 1970’s turntable sitting atop its tulip pedestal, she could pile multiple vinyls for continuous play. Crouched on the floor, fingers fiddling with the rough strands of our beige shag carpet, I’d watch the needle travel through the rotating grooves from end to center then mechanically lift up, move back to the side to make room for the next disk to drop, and gently re-descend to play the next song. 

In the background, I’d hear my mom’s high, happy notes. Often I couldn’t help joining in, inevitably knowing the lyrics by heart. 

Thus holiday music filled the air throughout the season, accompanying everything from cleaning to trimming the tree and culminating in two French Canadian traditions at my grandparents’ house: the Réveillon, a celebratory dinner on Christmas Eve that carried on into the wee hours, and New Year’s Day Dinner, where custom had us greet one another with personalized well wishes for the year ahead followed by my grandpa’s group blessing.

Holiday Gift of Holiday Songs

I never counted how many of us gathered around the cloth-covered, extended retro chrome-rimmed table in their modest kitchen, joining in repeat-after-me Christmas songs with the occasional addition of foot tapping or musical spoons. With my mother as the fourth of eight children, most of them married with kids of their own, there could have been 30 of us. I know we each had at least one cousin around the same age to play together with our grandparents’ yearly holiday gift. 

“What we have is very special,” he said.

While there were sometimes differences in opinions, I cannot recall one fight or argument. I remember laughter and warm embraces, togetherness and belonging. I also remember when my grandpa, who had run a tight ship at home, stood at the head of the table one year and said, almost tenderly:

“What we have here is very special.” 

From one of the two hot-commodity rockers I had been lucky to snag for a moment,  I witnessed my aunts and uncles moved by my grandpa’s unusual show of emotions. They agreed, their cheers carrying into the next round of holiday songs.

One year, we missed. I would have been eleven, shortly before I was told of my parents’ split-up — of which grown-ups must have been forewarned. We ended up at my other grandma’s on Christmas Eve, where the highlight of the somber night among the five of us was to attend a late mass. Which, for some reason, got skipped. And we went to bed instead.

That night, my mother vowed we’d never know another such Christmas. The following year, regardless of the divorce, she invited both extended families to our house for the holiday. In addition to her relentless festive singing that December, with my aunties’ help on weekends, she prepared traditional Quebecois dishes of tourtières, pig’s feet stew, root vegetables and Yule logs for at least 50 people to regale on Christmas Eve.

“All this work for one night,” I overheard her confide in my aunts at one point. “What we need is a big snow storm to keep everyone stuck here for three days!” she laughed.

“Do you know what this means?” I was asked.

One memorable Saturday morning that month, they sent me to the store for a missing ingredient. Walking home, I found something I’d never seen before: a daisy in full bloom, in the freezing cold, peeking out of inches of snow. I picked it with my mitten and showed the treasure upon my return.

“Oh, lucky one!” exclaimed one of my aunties. “Do you know what this means?” 

I shook my head, anxious to find out what the magic was about. 

“It means you’re going to have a wonderful Christmas!” she promised, eyes sparkling.

And so we did. Aunts, uncles and cousins arrived by the dozen on Christmas Eve with presents and joy to share. We filled three extra large sleighs for an evening ride, sitting snug under blankets, singing to the accompaniment of harness bells. We attended Midnight Mass at an immense, stunning basilica. Santa came with trinkets and a holiday gift for each. We feasted and sang until the next morning. And wouldn’t you know it, my mother’s wish came true: a formidable snow storm came down and kept everyone home for three fun-filled days. It was epic!

Holiday Songs

To this day, Christmas is the most important event on my calendar. The kids have sometimes complained about the holiday music that plays in the car come December. 

“Nope!” I’ve retorted joyfully, on any attempt to change tunes. “Tis the season and holiday songs we play!”

“Holiday songs we play!” I echo.

This year, as I was planning our intimate pandemic Réveillon menu, I heard holiday music coming from my teen daughter’s room. My heart filled with joy. She’s looking forward to Christmas, and my son, who’ll be home from college, wants to cook the main dish. 

While my mother didn’t always know what present to place under the tree for me, I realize today that she did much more. She passed on a multigenerational holiday gift that keeps on giving: her candid, joyful, warmhearted holiday spirit. 

Thank you, Mom, for the most wonderful time of the year. And Merry Christmas!

Your Average Jo