After a while, Christmases all run together. You may have noticed this, especially if you take pictures. There's the living room, a welter of crumpled paper, gifts, coffee cups and cinnamon roll crumbs; there's the tree, its lights pale in the winter sunshine; there's the family, smiling around the preprandial holiday table; there's you at the stove, stirring something.

After a while, Christmases all run together. You may have noticed this, especially if you take pictures. There's the living room, a welter of crumpled paper, gifts, coffee cups and cinnamon roll crumbs; there's the tree, its lights pale in the winter sunshine; there's the family, smiling around the preprandial holiday table; there's you at the stove, stirring something.

Any one of those photos could be any Christmas. Personally, the only way I can tell one holiday from another is by studying what I'm wearing (aha, that gray sweater, must be Christmas 2006), checking out the length of my hair (way too short; definitely the year I looked like a twerp) or of course gazing at my daughters, though once those daughters became young adults and the young men sitting next to them became their husbands, the chances of telling one year from another faded perceptibly.

The madras quality of Christmas isn't a bad thing. Christmas is a holiday of traditions, after all -- a time for the red tablecloth, the chocolate cheesecake, the pesto potatoes, the cranberries that don't get eaten and the cranberry salad that does.

At our house, Christmas is traditionally chaotic, in spite of having no children to run screaming through the rooms. Children justify holiday chaos; that our celebrations are small-child-free, yet resemble international incidents may contribute to their tendency to blend together.

I suspect our holidays took on a manic quality after my mother died. I was just 19 and my sister was a couple of years older. Our father was a long time gone as well as deceased, and our closest relatives lived some distance away. As young adults we were suddenly in charge of pulling off the major holidays, which gave us a heady, Boxcar Children sort of feeling which lingers to this day.

By now, of course, my sister and I are both old enough to claim matriarch status with no sense of irony, but we have never managed to lose the conviction that we're just kids pretending to be adults. I can't remember Christmas dinner conversations around my grandmother's white-linen-covered table, but I'm willing to bet they weren't political debates, religious debates, political-religious debates, or impassioned discussions about, say, the Betsy-Tacy books or the games my sister and I made up when we were children: Dead Horse, Laugh, Smile and Say 'Ouch,' and -- I'm not kidding here -- Smother the Other Person Until She Panics.

We both grew up emotionally healthy and strong, incidentally, our games notwithstanding. And although I do recall thrashing around under the blankets of my sister's bed (that was the signal for "I'm panicking!") neither of us ever came so much as close to actually passing out.

My grandmother's table never had three dogs sleeping underneath it, either. She was a good sport in every way, even allowing me to bring my cat to her house on a couple of memorable occasions, but she would have blanched at the thought of all those dogs.

The difficulty, I have come to think, has to do with our relatively abrupt ascension to the roles of Official Adults. Most young people ease into that role gradually; they observe their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, they help out, much like apprentices (I'm thinking now of Mickey Mouse as the sorcerer's apprentice); they test the water one meal, one dish, maybe, at a time. My sister and I were thrown into the deep end, and that has made all the difference.

And it isn't a difficulty, really. We have perfectly edible -- some would say delicious -- meals, and our dinner table discussions, while lively, aren't really all that different from the ones around my grandmother's ...

OK, honesty forbids me to go that far. They aren't really all that different from one year to the next. In fact, after a while, they all run together.

But I see I'm back to the beginning.

Margo Bartlett is a ThisWeek staff writer: E-mail mbartlett@thisweeknews.com.