Perhaps you have already “put Christmas away” for the year. For many, the season started before Thanksgiving and they were done before the wrapping paper was at the curb on Christmas day. I understand…sometimes there is an overwhelming need to return to normal. For others, the next thing is right around the corner and it’s time to refocus. I have a friend who will be starting a new job on New Year’s Eve and she is ready to prepare for a new beginning. New job, new year, new opportunities…how exciting!
I’m not there yet. We haven’t had family Christmas. It’s the one where paper flies and one kid accidentally opens another kid’s gifts and someone is young enough that they embarrass their parents by saying “I want more!” (If you’ve ever had a three or four year old you know what I mean. They just like ripping paper off packages with no particular interest or appreciation for the contents.)
One of our sons-in-law is chief officer in charge of collecting the discarded wrapping paper and reminding kids to be careful so nothing gets thrown away. He’s really good at this job; he is tenured and valuable and secure in this position. Since our family continues to grow this scene has become more and more chaotic. We think you people who sit in a circle and orderly open gifts, one person at a time, carols softly playing in the background are so cute. In my idealistic, Hallmark/Publix commercial moments, I want to be like that. And then I get real and I’m thankful that we are all together and assure my anxious heart that we will sort it all out later and not throw one single scrap of paper away until everything is accounted for. I want joy and family; order and ceremony are overrated! And I want to be right in the middle of the happy chaos.
When I was a child the Christmas season lasted about two weeks. In my younger years our family had a short cellophane tree, just about three feet tall. It was placed on a high table a few days before Christmas, with my mom supervising the placement of the precious ornaments and bead garland and then six children proceeded to pelt it with tinsel. As I think about it today, it was meager, pitiful….and absolutely beautiful.
I loved Christmas because of the anticipation and the joy that I saw in my parent’s eyes as they watched all six of their offspring open gifts. They didn’t have the means for extravagance, but they always gifted toys and things we truly wanted rather than essential items that we needed. One gift in particular does seem odd as I look back. I mean, really…how many of you received a nun doll? My sister and I did! They were dressed in full habit, but had the faces of children. We were Catholics, but I don’t think my parents had plans to send either of us to a convent.
I recall vividly the year that I ruined Christmas, at least for myself. My parents had wrapped all of the gifts and placed them in the bottom of their closet. One day when they were away, I peeked. I knew EVERY gift, even my Simon and Garfunkel “Bridge Over Troubled Water” album…no surprises. I remember being ashamed and sad that there would be no surprises on Christmas morning. It was one of my last Christmases at home. TO. THIS. DAY. I NEVER peek. My hubby cleverly hides things under the bed in our room. Apparently he thinks that I won’t be cleaning the floors the weeks leading up to Christmas! But it’s all good, because I’m never again going to peek. Lesson learned.
I have another Christmas memory that has disposed me great determination to immerse myself in the crazy that ensues with a house filled with children. I was a preteen – I have no idea the year, but we had guests from Indiana for Christmas. It was my mother’s uncle and his family, and I know she must have been thrilled to have them with us. It was also one of the few years that I recall her buying a gift for my dad, a watch. With so many in the house, she was busy in the kitchen and even starting a load of laundry. I can still see her face when she returned to the living room and realized that my dad had already opened and set the precious watch aside. The moment was lost – she missed that special connection between giver and recipient when the surprise is revealed and joy bubbles up. I saw it in her face and though I didn’t fully understand, I could feel her disappointment.
I want to be present; I want to experience the joy and even the occasional disappointment that is hard to hide, because all of it is real life and it has an expiration date.
There will be eight grandchildren around our tree this Thursday…from the ten month old baby celebrating his very first Christmas to the eighteen year old who reminded me again Christmas day that he “is a man now”. No matter. We will gather, and I could not have imagined the mix when I was a young mother of two girls. Our family. An incredible blend of souls; by God’s grace, I am the mom. And I don’t want to miss a thing.
And so, we light the tree every evening and we wait. Christmas Eve was excellent; Christmas day was wonderful, but Family Christmas will be joy. There will be no perfection; I am certain that someone will poop at the most inopportune time; there will be tears (hopefully only from a little one) and there might even be some attitude, but it will be us just as we are. And I am sure of this more this year than ever; that “us” is a gift to anticipate, unwrap together and enjoy.
Happy Christmas, my friends. Happy New Year, too!