I had some talented guest writers this week. Hopefully you learned a lot and were entertained, as was I. To round out the week it feels only appropriate that I would share what Christmas looks like in my family. Growing up, I was the youngest of four children and I wasn’t close in age to my siblings (my siblings being 6, 10 and 12 years my seniors). But somehow it worked and my parents made sure of it.
Christmas was always a magical time for me growing up, thanks to the thoughtfulness and careful planning of my Mom specifically. Her gift was making people feel like a million bucks, special and treasured. So when a holiday rolled around, it was her time to shine, and she did it magnificently.
One of the holiday things she was most “famous” for was her Christmas cookies. She spent untold hours baking leading up to Christmas (leading up to any holiday, really; she baked for everything). Her banana bars which are now my specialty and cutout cookies ruled the cookie tray. Very labor-intensive, my Mom usually enlisted one or more of us to help her frost the cutout cookies. Each ball on Santa’s hat and cuff of his boot were frosted in the appropriate color and the kitchen table would be laden with bowls of frosting and tools of the trade…spoons, knives, and toothpicks for the finer details. And they were delicious, our collective favorites.
My Mom was very frugal and admirably selfless so Christmas was a rare occasion where we could spoil her a little even though she’d fight it:
“I don’t need anything.”
“Don’t spend your money on me.”
“Well, I could use a new kitchen timer.”
She’d only give in to our pleadings for gift ideas by offering an option that could be used in the household. She never asked for anything just for her. My Dad would always place an envelope on a branch of our live Christmas tree, usually cut down in our own back woods, and it would simply say “Mona” in his handwriting. We all knew what it was: a card with cash in it for my Mom and its only stipulation was she had to spend it on herself. Dad was clever. This expression of love is still one of my fondest Christmas memories.
* * * * *
On Christmas Eve, we all piled in the car to travel to Christmas Eve service, at our church across the road. The candlelight service really enveloped me with the spirit of Christmas. During this service, I felt peace, being surrounded by soft candlelight, moving hymns, and family.
After the service, as a family we’d drive around town and look in awe at all the pretty Christmas lights adorning homes. Then we’d returned to our home, change out of our pretty Christmas attire, and relax (or wrap your presents if you’re my procrastinating brother) and enjoy the delicious cookies Mom so lovingly labored over.
Christmas morning, I was wonderstruck. Usually, I’d wake up around 3 a.m. and have to use the bathroom, or at least that was the excuse I used so I could check to see if Santa had been by. In the dark of night, somehow a trace of light reflected off the tinsel and foil icicles that dripped from the tree, providing just enough exposure to reveal the buffet of gifts encircling the tree. I swear I can remember gasping in pure delight and I’d usually awaken my sister and share the good news. Sometimes she’d come see for herself and then we’d tiptoe back to bed, attempt to sleep, and gleefully await morning.
In my “older” years, tween onto adulthood while Mom was still on Earth, Christmas morning was serenely magical for me still. I’d usually rise first along with Mom and we’d sit and enjoy hot tea steeping in delicate China teacups by the light of the tree, serenaded by soft Christmas music dangling in the background. These moments I treasured and I treasure them even now. It was as if time stood still in those minutes before the house became awake and active. There was an almost holy feeling of complete peace, thanks to the preparations of my mother. The theme throughout the season was always the same: Jesus.
Mom always set the dining room table for the holidays (we used the kitchen table for “regular” dining). She’d use her beautiful China, polished silver, and all the fine serving dishes she reserved for such days as this. She’d read from the Bible and as we’d gather in the name of the Reason for the Season and eat breakfast and opened our table gifts, and would do so again later in the day once the feast she’d worked so hard and lovingly to prepare was set before us on that same perfectly-dressed table.
There are loved ones not physically here with us any more. They won’t be at our Christmas table. I won’t choose the present that’s “just right” for them. But every year at Christmas time, I remember them especially and how much they gave in years past. And what they gave had little to do with presents. I am blessed with rich memories of loved ones, laughter, traditions, many that I carry on with my children today. Every year, my babies hear about what we did “when I was a kid” and I like to think they can feel some of those warm memories of their grandparents who are in Heaven.
Merry Christmas to you. I pray that you are surrounded by cherished loved ones, delicious food (even if it’s not calorie-free!), warm memories, and new memories in the making!