I can only imagine what my own children will begin to experience this first year they understand Santa, Baby Jesus, and Christmas magic. But I can speak clearly from my own experience of the thrill of these special days when I was a child…
Long before Christmas, my countdown started for the day we could decorate. It was a haul carrying up endless boxes from the basement, but I absolutely loved spending hours with my mom transforming our house into a Christmas wonderland. My dad always pleaded for simple decorations but his request was ignored as I put out every knickknack I could find.
The next big thrill was the arrival of my two grandmothers, grandfather, and uncle. Watching for their cars from the window, I would squeal as I saw them drive up to our house. Nana made the most wonderful pressed butter cookies and an assortment of other Italian pastries that must have taken her days to bake. We descended upon them instantly.
The Christmas lights coating every exterior tree, bush, and sometimes outline of our house were stunningly beautiful to me. Filled with happiness and anticipation, I would sit alone at night looking at the glow from our living room window. Equally as special were the old electric candles brightening each window. I would fall asleep staring at them, comforted by the joy they signaled was coming.
Christmas Eve we would dress up for dinner at a nice restaurant and then attend the vigil mass. It was a privilege and a celebratory treat fitting for Jesus’ birthday. After mass I reveled one last time in seeing the promise of the Christmas lights on all the homes we passed while driving to the tune of Christmas music. At home we ate more cookies, set out some for Santa, and settled in together for a TV show.
Interestingly, my fondest memories are not of opening presents. Instead, what I hold most dear about Christmas is simply being with family. I loved giving gifts more than receiving. Too young and without money to shop on my own, I would look around our house to “find” gifts for my family members. One year I wrapped up a thin olive colored belt of my mother’s to give to my uncle. He was so kind to feign delight at receiving a woman’s belt!
After gift giving, I remember laughing hysterically as my uncle, a true comical character, acted out commercials in costume with props for silly products he invented. We filmed him with a monstrous VHS camcorder and replayed the show for everyone’s entertainment.
Christmas day culminated in a dinner feast. Eight people in total, we wouldn’t fit at the table in our little dining room and so we moved spare tables together in a line across the family room. The wood burning fire was crackling as songs played and candles lit much more delicious food than we could eat. The grandparents would speak some Italian and I would learn a few words, good and bad.
It was always tough to let Christmas slip away after the day had ended. But I can still feel it, even after my grandparents have long passed, my parents have moved away, and I have a family of my own. I wonder, what will my children remember about our Christmases now?
I hope they remember what I have held in my heart: family togetherness, love, hope, joy, excitement, peace, laughter, warmth, goodness, and generosity. I want this for my children which means I must be watchful not to succumb to the busyness of the season, the overwhelm that rushes and frustrates me, the distractions that leave little energy for the most loving and holy details of Christmas.
My gift to you, dear mom, is to rest. You have done enough now. Delight in your children these precious days and love the experience you have with them. Don’t worry about imperfections and what’s incomplete. You have done your best. Give your heart to your loved ones and be at peace making beautiful Christmas memories that will shape their future.