Thursday, February 27, 2014

Unwrapping the Smiles

I know that there are so many facets to the Christmas holiday season. It seems every year that the collision from Halloween to Thanksgiving to Christmas occurs at an ever increasing pace. To Do lists get drafted and edited and added to, and eventually as checked off as they are going to become. Somehow our smart phones are supposed to make getting it all done faster. I can't say that this is necessarily true, but I do know that the 25th of December comes steadfastly and - for now - the Christmas stores close down on the 24th and we live at the end of that eve with what got done...and what didn't.

I always love Christmas Eve. Having a retail hubby, who works so many days and so many long hours in those days, brings a different flavor to our holiday season. We muster through the month, Steve helping me with what he can, when he can. The master-minding of the whole event is solely on my shoulders and I do revel in it. Keeping up with the budget, the gifts to get against the budget, the evening out of it all, the element to create a few great surprises under the tree, the wrapping, the cards, the baking, the meal menus, the trip to see the extended family, and the photographing and remembering - it all falls squarely on me.

We pare down to eliminate the things that don't need to be done, make our way through December, end of workday by end of workday, parse out the beloved weekend time for the big projects and must do's in that moment, and we battle to carve out as many quiet together moments at home, out of the cold and chaos, as we can manage. After all of these retail years, we have very nearly perfected knowing how much we can manage to get done, and, more importantly, we have learned to enjoy the life we have in December as much as humanly possible.

But, come Christmas Eve, I know the end is near. I know that soon our life will return to normal and in between the pre-December 25 shopping frenzy and the post-season retail wrap-up, we get nearly 48 hours of unhurried time. When I get the text, "Leaving the store. See you soon. Do you need anything?" my heart skips a beat and I know that Steve will soon be pulling into the driveway, bringing Christmas home. I always tell him, "It isn't Christmas Eve until you're here with us."

The whole month unfolds into embracing those few hours between him coming home on the 24th and him going back in on the 26th. All of the hard work at that point is deemed "worth it" and the presents under the tree, the fire blazing, the boys home and the house full of the four of us truly is the most wonderful time of the year. 

As the boys have aged, it has added even more to the holiday - their opinions on everything we do, their shopping for their own gifts without any assistance, their being awake longer on Christmas Eve, their remembering of years' past and their excitement over their favorites. Invariably there is some last minute gift wrapping going on by the men in my house. I secretly love to watch them scurry to get it done. But at some point, it all gets done and we settle into the holiday. We have our traditions that I love -  Christmas Eve candlelight service, Mexican food for dinner, the boys' present exchange, the watching of a beloved movie. 

We finally eek out of Christmas Eve all that we can and we turn in to bed, pacing out the time so as to glean as much joy out of the holiday as we can harvest. Christmas morning dawns and we live now in the fullness of phase where the boys may sleep in as long as we allow. Andrew is my early riser and Philip is my night owl who struggles to fall asleep and, accordingly, wake up before noon. He's enough of a kid at heart, though, to make an exception on Christmas morning, being a good sport to wake up when we have kept Andrew at bay as long as we deem acceptable. 

Christmas morning holds its own traditions, too - the gathering of the coffee and camera, the stockings, the usual breakfast foods, and then, finally, the tree. I have recognized as I age that there are some boxes that, by the time they come out from under the tree, I am no longer able to recall their contents. It's somewhat serendipitous to also be surprised as the wrapping paper comes off and the box opened.

Camera ever ready at my side, I am poised and prepared to capture the snapshots of the day - angling to get the best shots of the faces that I love. See, while they are unwrapping the presents, I am unwrapping the smiles. I love these photos that represent the pure delight on their faces at the unexpected gifts, the little surprises I found throughout my month long shopping endeavors, the secret presents that I grabbed to make the morning moments feel a little bit more special.

To me, the most wonderful time of the year is when you are all together, celebrating the Presence of the Christ child, the presents of the day, and the richness of the traditions you have shared over time and in different spaces to treasure those two ideals. No matter how old the boys get, or where we may end up living, I know that for me, the greatest gift my family can give me every year is to allow me to sit back, watch them delight in the holiday, and capture all the times spent unwrapping the smiles. 

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year ~ Christmas Morning ~ December 2010

Paper: October Afternoon, Echo Park

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