Christmas is a time of such mixed emotions for me. Growing up, Christmas was always my favorite time of the year. The weekend after Thanksgiving dad climbed in the attic and pulled down all of the boxes labeled “Christmas”. This was usually a lot more eventful than it sounded. We rarely replaced old boxes; they were all but falling apart going up, so coming down out of the attic was often a bit calamitous. Once everything was in the kitchen and dining room area, mom, Clay and I began sifting through boxes as we listened to Christmas music.
Clay and I were in charge of putting together the artificial Christmas tree and then decorating it. We had so many ornaments; boxes and boxes of them. It seemed like mom had saved every Christmas ornament we ever made from kindergarten forward. There were paper chains, hand prints, Santa pictures, reindeer, and Popsicle stick picture frames. Mom had collected tons of homemade ornaments as well, all important and special. Then there were tons of plastic and glass balls. Some were plain while others had important firsts; baby’s first Christmas, wedding days, and other events. It seemed that every event from our lives was specially represented by a different ornament on the tree. I loved reminiscing each year and hunting for that perfect place to hang each ornament to give it the proper glamour and respect it deserved. Then there was this beautiful little homemade village that my grandma’s friend made for us. Once we got the tree skirt laid out just right under the tree, Clay always liked setting up the village below the twinkling lights.
While we were in the front room decorating, mom was making the rest of the house feel festive. She hung up the advent quilt over the dining room table, set out ceramic figurines around the house, and set up several different nativities in the living room. One of our favorite pastimes during the Christmas season was to rearrange one of the nativity scenes on a daily basis. We moved the animals or wise men and sometimes even hid the baby in random places. It became a running joke and we loved to see each other’s creativity with the nativity!
There were also several other traditions. At some point during the holiday we all piled into the car and drove around looking at Christmas lights. This was always a lot of fun. Then the church hosted a caroling event on a Wednesday night and we went door to door singing Christmas carols to shut-ins and older church members. I loved watching their faces light up as we brought joy into their quiet homes. When we got back from caroling we always had hot soup or chili and a great time of fellowship with friends.
My favorite part of Christmas was checking my stocking. The whole month of December our stockings kept growing. They were filled with knickknacks like candy, pens, Pez dispensers, and other silly trinkets. Mom handmade each of us a stocking and put our names on them. I can still see them hanging over the fireplace…
My first Christmas being married was good. We decorated a tree in our home and we went to our parents’ houses the day of Christmas. It was a little sad not living in my house that I’d grown up in and going through all of the holiday traditions and routines with my parents, but I knew that we would eventually adjust and begin making our new traditions.
The February following that first Christmas being married, mom and dad’s house caught fire and burnt to the ground. The next few months were tough, trying to help them pick up the pieces of their lives. We all just went through the motions of life, thankful that life was still there. When that first Christmas came around after the house fire, I was sad, but didn’t know why. I dreaded Christmas and didn’t even want to decorate or think about it. I finally found a sad little pine tree, put it in a Folger’s can and hung a couple of ornaments on it out of guilt. This was the pattern for the next several years. I never realized how much family and tradition really meant to me. It felt like there was a giant hole in my heart during the holidays and it took me a while to figure out why.
Even now, I’m sitting here crying as I fondly remember how Christmas used to be. I’m sad that we lost all of our Christmas decorations in the fire. I’m sad that we can never ever replace those special traditions and ornaments. I’m sad that I had to grow up and stop being a kid. But I’m so thankful that the fire didn’t take my family or my wonderful Christmas memories.
So now I’m turning a new page in the book. Now that Carter has come along, I’ve finally had to come to terms with my relationship with Christmas. I can’t be a scrooge anymore. He needs his own happy Christmas memories. I’m working on making our own advent quilt. We have a nativity we set up each year on the kitchen counter. We went to the Christmas parade tonight and then rode around and looked at lights as Carter “wowed” and “oohed”. Monday we will find a tree on the farm, cut it down and decorate it. I’ve already got some knickknacks for Carter’s stocking and I’m planning on letting Carter pick out a new ornament for our tree every year.
I know this blog was kind of long, but I needed to get some words off of my heart tonight. Each of us has different Christmas memories. Some are really good and some aren’t. Some of you are missing a special person this holiday season and it makes it especially tough. Some of you have abandoned old traditions that need to be rekindled. Some of you have never developed Christmas traditions, so now might be the time to start. Wherever this finds you, I hope that you will look ahead and not get stuck in the past like I did. Love the people in your life wholeheartedly. Keep Christ in the middle. And move forward with renewed tradition.