Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The True Gift of Christmas

I guess you could say Christmas runs deep in me, embedded down into the very ends of my roots. Not the gifts per se, so much. As a child, Christmas was never all about the gifts. It was, in my heart, about family time, about being together, about specialness - from the foods to the clothes to the decorations. And mostly about treasuring all of that.

We had a family tradition as I was growing up. We would open presents on Christmas Day, promptly clean up and dress, pack up the suitcases, pick ONE thing from the Santa pile, and head north on 45, traveling from Houston to Denton on days that began before the sun appeared. Squishy rides, in our "Christmas dress clothes", sleeping so as not to alter our appearance, and clutching our one thing we had been allowed to bring. 

We made our appearance at my grandmother's always before noon. We would usually be the first ones there, and we would have a grand waiting game to see who arrived next, hoping the car that pulled up contained the cousin that was our age, with a story prepared about all that Santa did bring us, even though we were manifesting only the one gift. Ahhh, memories! By the time dinner was served, and the tree was "opened up and gifted out", there would be probably 40 of us, if I were to guess off the top of my head. My mother was the youngest of nine, and most years, 7 of the 9 children were there with their children, as as time elapsed, grandchildren. Four generations of Christmas love.

As precious and tender to me as those memories are, once I married, Christmas took a different bend to me. The Denton trek passed in its original form in 1979 when my dear granny lost her cancer battle. We would continue to go, but the regularity and constancy of the holiday fundamentally shifted, as if an earthquake had come through, and my mom then began to craft a new Christmas definition for my immediate family. As we all married, the holiday continued to metamorphose, until we are today at a place far, far from where we began as children.

I would say the biggest difference is that Steve is in retail. He loves it, he truly does. And I am always so happy to have a spouse that enjoys his job, and does well with it. But, without a doubt, him having the one day off created another tectonic shift in the plate of family gatherings. For the years we were still living in the Houston area, we managed to limp along and keep up with my sisters' families and how they celebrated with my parents. In 1997, when we moved to San Antonio, we left behind all pretense of keeping traditions the same, and celebrated for the first time Christmas Day all by ourselves - Steve, me, the boys. 

In two days, we will celebrate our 18th Christmas here {alone} in our home. Every few years, my parents will join us, and I believe my husband's parents have joined us for two of those 18 years, and we are grateful for the years our parents can join us. But, for the most part, these Christmases in our house have been just the four of us. Steve will come home early on Christmas Eve, more tired than he will admit, and have 36 hours to revel in the true joy of the season before heading out to after season sales and merry markdowns. But, we take it. It is the Christmas we know, it is the only kind of Christmas my sons know.

We make the most of our time. I will confess that while I sometimes am lonely and blue during the month of December, I do not regret at all that we are given the gift of having Christmas Day in our home. I think, too, that my husband and sons would agree with me. We love our little traditions. We love being together. We love soaking in the season - the ADVENT - the longing for the true Gift.

And because we have always been home for Christmas, I have always strived to make it memorable and fun and have, with the wonderful help of my husband, decorated the house every year, in much the same spirit as my dear granny. A tree in every room. Goodies in tins. Thoughtful gifts, full of love. Stockings on the mantle. This year's morning ritual has me turning on the lights for 9 trees downstairs, and the garland on the stairwell. And one of my trees has ornaments on it that were actually my granny's ornaments, treasured glass balls.

And we begin the season each year for our family with our little tree trimming party. My husband's family was large enough to be their own party, and so he brought with him his little family party gene, and I have loved embracing that tradition. Each of us pick a fun party food, and we have poinsettias to drink {half cranberry juice/half ginger ale or champagne} and we turn on my holiday music mix. Unpacking new ornaments from their Hallmark boxes, pulling previous years' ornaments out of the ornament bins, fluffing up the Christmas tree, turning on the lights, and hanging the beloved ornaments. We work together, trimming the tree until it is finished and lights up the corner of our family room.

We each have our favorite ornaments. We will ooh and aah over different ones, and be excited or dismal over what our assigned ornament bin contains. The Barbies? The boys don't like them so much. I understand. I feel the same way about the trains, trucks, planes, and cars. ;-) My favorites to hang? Hands down, the Nostalgic Houses series. The first one was introduced in 1984 and this year we purchased and hung on our tree the 31st house in the series. I just love them. Over time, we transitioned from buying our Hallmark ornaments at half off after-Christmas sales to buying them premiere weekend in the fall.

At any rate, we have many, many Hallmark ornaments and they each have a story to tell, their own unique identity, much like the tale a Christmas season develops of its own accord each year. They are each treasured in their own way, rotating positions on the tree each year, handled by each of us over time, creating a compendium of memories as we work together to craft a Christmas tree that will be like no other one we ever have. 

And while a tree is just a tree, to me it is a shining symbol of hope, of eternal love, of the truest Gift of the season. I often can hear Linus reciting it, when at the end of Charlie Brown's search for a tree, Linus reminds him that it is never really about the tree. Yes, we kick off the advent season with the tree, and it is the last thing to come down and be put away, but the meaning for the season, the Gift of the season, stays with us all year long.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. - Isaiah 9:6
As I type this on Merry Christmas Eve Eve, as we look at marking another year together as a family of four, I wish for you each the joy of the season, a Christmas full of wonder and peace - and may you know the true Gift of Christmas. Merry Christmas!

Santa's Elves ~ Tree Trimming ~ Christmas 2008

Sketch Credit: Scrapbook Generation
Paper: Authentique
Title: Silhouette cut file