December 25th has always been my favorite day of the year. The family gathered together with anticipation of the happiest and most blessed days.
Since childhood, the miracle of a babies birth has been the focal point of our celebration. Santa and gifts were secondary.
As a child, my parents made sure that I knew the true meaning of the holiday. We celebrated with traditional accoutrement, always focusing on the promise made so long ago. While we were pointed in the direction of the star atop the tree, let it be known that our eyes were easily diverted to the brightly wrapped packages beneath.
Decorating at our house included every inch that could hold a snowflake, star, Nutcracker or Santa. Mama would go warped speed decorating anything and everything.
Instead of “Elf on the Shelf” we had elf on the mantle and the snowman toilet seat cover would hide his eyes when raised. Wreaths were on every door and the smells of sugar cookies, cakes, sausage balls, fruit cake and candies coming from mama’s kitchen would rival any confectioner.
Our traditions included Christmas Eve dinner for the entire family, followed by gifts from under the tree. With an early bedtime and an even earlier wake up call, we would find the living room floor filled with gifts from Santa. Stockings filled to overflowing and boys bouncing from pile to pile amazed at how Santa had placed us on the nice list for another year.
Through the years our Christmas dreams broadened to electronics, car supplies, clothes and items that weren’t as much fun for Santa’s delivery as bikes, balls and GI Joe. While the dreams of our holiday fancy changed, mama and daddy always made sure the promise of a baby, born in a manger was the focal point.
Eventually, children came back on the scene and the joy of childhood once again, took over. Grown up dreams were overtaken by unimaginable wonder when wide-eyed grandchildren would awaken to find the magic of Santa’s arrival.
However, before any gifts were opened, a pop-up book with the Christmas story took center stage. Through the years the book was read by mama, then my niece and since he could read, my nephew.
It never fails, the story unites our family and for me provides a lump in my throat and tear in my eye; the promise of a baby born in a manger, so long ago.
2010 was our first Christmas was without my mom. The sadness I felt going into that day was palpable. We had gone through all the motions to make sure we had a Christmas she would be proud of, but the lingering sadness cut through everything.
We decorated and gathered on Christmas Eve for dinner. Settling in the living room prior to gifts, my nephew pulled out the tattered pop up book and shared the tradition mama had started so many years prior. We sat and quietly listened, more than a few tears were shed and in that moment, some of my sadness was gone as I remembered the true meaning of Christmas my parents had instilled in me since birth.
The promise of a baby, born in a manger, long, long ago.
Christmas morning, as if she had choreographed it, a beautiful snowfall blanketed God’s Country. Mama loved snow and she would have loved this one, there were huge wet flakes that covered the ground quickly and hung heavy on the trees.
As pretty as the snowfall was, Daddy and I had to get back to Florida. We had planned on leaving the next day for his final winter in Florida and my return home. After a quick breakfast and watching the now young-adult grandchildren open their gifts we were out the door and on the road, it was a welcome respite from the sadness that certainly would have come from our first Christmas without mama.
That day the two of us took refuge in an I-Hop, somewhere south of Atlanta. We had a Christmas lunch of pancakes, bacon and hash-browns. That day in a booth surrounded by truck drivers and wayward travelers, my dad and I talked about how much mama loved Christmas and how her love of the holiday had found a place in my DNA. The two of us laughed and we shed more than a couple of tears remembering her and our history and then we talked about Jesus and the babies birth.
That Christmas, as much as I had dreaded it, led to one of the best conversations I ever had with my dad. A Christmas memory I will cherish forever.
This year our Christmas was changed once again. On November 15th, Daddy passed away.
The six-week lead up to Christmas has once again been filled with apprehensions that I wasn’t sure I was ready for.
Over the years his affable “ho-ho-hos” and stories have been a part of my Christmas celebrations that I always looked forward to. The small things my daddy did and his sincere love for every member of our family made every day with him special, but Christmas was always just a bit more.
We have all made a valiant effort to make Christmas perfect for the family. Our laughter, jokes and stories of Christmases past have been mixed with private moments of tears, cemetery visits and estate settlement. Christmas this year has been exactly what my parents would have wanted it to be, a season filled with love, laughter and joy.
While loss has made our hearts heavy, joy has once again brought us together. Today as my nephew read that old tattered pop up book with the story of Christmas, a story filled with great promise detailing the birth of a baby.
Today as we gathered as a family, our newest addition was with us, a baby, just three days old, celebrating her first Christmas. The child we welcomed earlier in the week offering the promise of what is to come, Christmases of faith, family and tradition.
A Christmas that honors the past, highlights new beginnings and recognizes the promise of new birth.