When I was a child, I always looked forward to Christmas with a sense of hope and wonder. Christmas wasn’t just one day in which we gave gifts and celebrated the birth of our Lord. It was two weeks of wonderful family togetherness and tradition thanks to Christmas break from school that coincided with the yearly steelworker union layoffs. Not that I understood that at the time. I only knew that I got to spend days on end with both my parents for a change. Blessed days they were; filled with music and laughter, family excursions to pick and cut the perfect Christmas tree, ice fishing with my dad, sled riding with my sisters, and helping (or hindering depending on who you ask) my mom around the house.
Christmas mornings were joyously spent in our pajamas opening gifts and laughing after we forcibly dragged our parents from their bed, then heading to my Grandparents house for dinner where so many of my fondest Christmas memories will always remain. My grandpa always told the same dinner jokes at a table that my grandma had set for royalty, which was how she always treated us. After dinner we would all settle in their living room to watch the REAL (in my opinion) Christmas Classics. We waited all year to watch Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and A Charlie Brown Christmas and were never disappointed.
Maybe I’m romanticizing how things really were as I look back through the eyes of my child-self. But I don’t recall my parents or my grandparents ever complaining about the amount of work Christmas is. Now as an adult, I know better. Looking back over the last few weeks, I somehow have managed to do my day job, work diligently on writing, run my business, visit friends, help strangers, shop for and wrap gifts, and hold down a household with two clumsy children and a host of pets (all of whom required feeding, care and attention) without any serious accidents; and Christmas came and went mostly without a hitch. But it has left me feeling completely spent.
Much like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree, I was a disheveled mess when all was said and done. I wished someone would wrap me in a blanket and surround me with loving comfort and support but that was in short supply. Instead the post-holiday rush of cleaning the house, finding places to put all the gifts we’d received, returning to work, and endless projects were already weighing heavily on my mind. Somewhere along the way, I’d lost the reason we celebrate Christmas in my heart.Was Christmas just that much better when I was a child? Have we as a society become so jaded, wrapped in schedules and social engagements that we’ve forgotten how to take time to actually celebrate; to stare in wide-eyed wonder at a nativity scene or appreciate the beauty of the blowing snow? These were all questions burning through my mind as we traveled to my sister’s home over the weekend to celebrate Christmas with my family.
My sister now lives in the home that belonged to my grandparents, and while so much has changed without grandpa telling his bad puns and grandma’s absence evident as we line up buffet style, most of the people that I love were once again under one roof in a place that has always held a little bit of Christmas magic for me. We hugged, ate and laughed. We laughed a lot. I spent a lot of time conversing with my dad, who never seems to have much to say until you get him warmed up. I acted silly for my sisters who haven’t seen that side of me in longer than I care to think about. We teased our mother shamelessly while the men in the house all “watched football” (took naps). Eventually we got around to the gifts, which even the children weren’t really interested in, as they were having so much more fun just playing together and enjoying the loving atmosphere.
Leaving that evening was rough. While I had felt completely spent from “Christmas”, my true Christmas had come and gone all too soon in those precious few hours of being happily surrounded by the people I love, and I was once again sad that Christmas only comes once a year. Because at least in that house, despite all the trials and tribulations we each endured throughout the year, when we come together for Christmas the world once again shines just a little bit brighter through the love and support we have always given to one another. God willing it is enough to sustain us all for another year when we can look forward to doing it all again.