Sunday, December 22, 2013

Christmas in a New Perspective

"I don't care if you're up," my dad's voice resonates from the hall, "but you have to stay in your room until your mother is ready."

"Okay," my older brother answers. "But can I run to the bathroom?"

I don't see it from behind my closed door, but I know what follows is a simple head nod from my dad followed by my brother slipping from his room, across the small landing, past my bedroom door, and into the bathroom. Though he tries to be subtle, we all know he tried to sneak a peak down the stairs.

"Hey," he bursts into my room a few minutes later. "Are you up?" Though his red hair is chaotic, I have to admit he looks particularly cool in his new Christmas jammies. We each got a pair before retiring to bed. Mine is a satin nightgown. Mom made them. It's our Christmas Eve tradition.

I've been up for what seems like hours. The anticipation is killing me. I point to our toddler sister who is still asleep beside me. "Shhh," I whisper, then, "Did you see anything?"

He nods as his grin grows. "There's something big down there. I'm pretty sure it's for you."

My heart does a dance. I've been hoping and dreaming about a new bike. My old one is okay, I've ridden it for years, but I'm much older now - seven, infact - and I'm ready for something more mature.

"What was it?" I pry, only half hoping he'll tell me. I really do like surprises.

"Not telling," he insists.

Visions of a bike circle my head. Is it red? Or blue? Or green?... Oh, dear. I hope it's not pink. Does Santa know I don't like pink?
We are full of giggles and excitement. Soon my younger brother joins us, and before long my little sister wakes up too. We probably disturbed her, but we really don't care. All we care about is the magic waiting for us beside the Christmas Tree. The ensuing hour seems like an eternity as we wait for mom to finally wake up and be ready.

This is the theme of my childhood Christmases: Anticipation. Excitement. Joy. Family.

There was the year Santa decided to play with my brother's remote control helicopter in the living room. Remember those glittery 1970's cottage cheese ceilings? Yeah, well Santa had some explaining to do when we found a good chunk of it on the living room floor. And then there was the year I was the guilty party in the ceiling destruction. Apparently when swinging a stick at the pinata, one should not aim upwards... especially when they are tall enough that the baton can make contact with the ceiling. 

One year we hauled loads of beautifully wrapped gifts into a small hospital room so we could celebrate Christmas morning with my ill Grandma. There was the year my siblings and I got new pillows then quickly destroyed our old ones by cutting them open and throwing the stuffing around the room. (Pretty sure my mom did NOT have a smile about that one!) 

Then I hit middle school and joined the orchestra where, after working very hard, I earned the coveted position of first chair in the first violin section for the Christmas concert. I was beaming with pride and to add to my excitement there was a boy in the percussion band that I may have had a little crush on. I wore my best new dress - a peach colored ruffly number - and confidently took the stage. Luckily the stage curtains were drawn because as soon as I took my seat, the chair slid backwards off the stage, turning me upside down and, you guessed it, flashing the entire orchestra and the percussion band.

... Laughing about it now is so much easier than it was then.  

The memories are virtually endless. Laughter, tears, and deviled eggs. But in all honesty, I don't think I recognized the value of our Christmas traditions then. I don't think I appreciated the time spent with family or what all those Christmas parties were really about. I don't think I cared if my mom had time to set up her camera and I'm pretty sure on at least one occasion I was a stinker about taking an annual family photo by the tree. 

And then something happened. You know what I'm talking about. It's that evil reality we all have to come to terms with eventually: We grow up! And Christmas changes.

As I welcomed my own children into the world, I tried to hold true to all of the traditions our family so tenderly cultivated. (You can read about some of them HERE.) There were years that it was overwhelming trying to squeeze it all in. Years of tight budgets, years of overburdened schedules, years where the excitement didn't come, and years where all I wanted to do was simplify.

A few days ago I stole my mom's box of pictures then spent the morning traveling down memory lane. Photos of my toddler cuteness mixed in with those awkward teenaged years. My kids and I shared some giggles (mostly at the expense of my siblings! - Love you guys!) And, a midst the giggles and even some sentimental tears, I noticed something.

I always thought I had great Christmases, abundant with gifts galore. My mother's photos showed a different story. A story of Christmases of plenty, for sure, but also a story of lean years. There were always gifts, don't get me wrong, but there were some years where those gifts were simple and few. And, yet, I don't remember ever feeling disappointed. I don't remember ever wanting more. My Christmases were always full of the things that mattered most. 

In that box of my mom's photos I finally realized that Christmas really isn't about the "what's" but the "who's."

That is exactly why we hold fast to our traditions. They aren't about the parties or the candy or the gifts. They aren't about the sparkling lights or the best dressed tree. They aren't about the food or the music or the pinata. They are simply about being with the people you love. They are about building a foundation of love, togetherness, and even friendship. And I couldn't be more grateful for all the "who's" who have been the building blocks of my life! I love all of you!

It's been a lot of years since my siblings and I gathered in the early morning hours to giggle and anticipate the gifts that awaited us (though now I do it with my own kids). It's been a long time since Santa surprised me with a red and white Huffy. My mom does't sew us Christmas jammies anymore (though I do buy a pair for my kids each year) and it's been way too long since I've seen some of my cousins. And, after sifting through my mom's photos, I realized that I've failed to make a photographic record of my own growing family by our tree each year. (Wow! I hope that doesn't come back to bite me one day!) But what I really hope is that aside those bikes and bbguns and iPads, my children will have felt joy of peace and love and acceptance each Christmas season. For Christmas isn't about whats under the tree, but what is in our hearts.

*If you'd like to check out more great stories of Christmas memories, check out and their Unwrap Your Memories Campaign. 

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