I love Christmas. I love the lights, the joyful productions and the time’s slow, aching rhythm.
My favorite part of Christmas is November, when the anticipation has just begun, and candles and catalogs first appear.
In our house, I am definitely the Elf to my husband’s Santa. While I am in charge of quirky stocking stuffers, he is Father Christmas. He pores over our children’s lists, calculator and graphing paper in hand. Each year, as the momentum builds to a delicious intensity, I have to guard the Christmas loot from his obsessive evening out.
Just like any family, we have tried-and-true holiday traditions. My husband carefully wraps each present in special wrapping paper that he picks specifically for each child. Because of this, nametags are unnecessary; he simply hands out the presents by paper. The children love assisting him in wrapping for others, reveling in time spent with him and in sneak peeks.
Finding out which paper he has chosen for us is a highlight of every Christmas morning, as the children recall gift wraps of Christmases past. “Remember when he got me the Harry Potter wrapping paper?” “The Princess paper?” This year, there was a cacophony of themes: Dr. Who, zombies, horses, manga, Spongebob and the Nativity scene (me).
But, Christmas 2013 was definitely different. We have unanimously dubbed it the weirdest Christmas ever. In fact, we stumbled through December muttering, “Weirdest Christmas ever.” While most of our traditions made the cut (my husband and I never shopped together though; I missed that), this weirdness kicked the pace from our usual ambling to warp-speed.
It seemed as if every time I turned around, something blocked me from Christmas. I feel like I was Charlie Brown on the pitcher’s mound, hit by Christmas 2013’s line drive, pinwheeling through the air, only to crash in a heap of bewilderment.
There were many things that triggered our discombobulation. The biggest factor was my mother’s hospitalization right before the holidays. This brought scared siblings home who helped with tough decisions, and changed pre-Christmas scenes from home to hospital (No offense, Mom. You are worth it.) On top of this, most of our kids were sick (two with flu,one with mono), I hit a deer and the ice storm impacted pretty much all of the above. Sadly, I rarely made it to church, which left me lost and ugly.
As I faced the day I dread more than any other day of the year, Dec. 26, I tried to make sense of all this. There were clear blessings: I spent Christmas at home, surrounded by all my loved ones, including my mother. But truthfully, I still felt (feel) sorry for myself. Christmas had happened behind my back.
Then, I started thinking about the first Christmas. I wondered if any of the many travelers would have described their journey as easy? Relaxed? Or, did they just sense that it was worth it? When did I start believing that Christmas was something to have instead of something to seek?
So, I began sorting through my inner viewfinder, trying to find my Christmas, however weird it might be. I rummaged through hospital moments, remembering the garbled speech and faded eyes of my mother’s 90-plus roommate. I saw her covering her face and crying softly as she spoke of her mother. I witnessed the nurses lovingly tending to her.
I watched my husband and myself taking a walk on an ice-encrusted road when we didn’t have time to walk on an ice-encrusted road. I gazed at our college-aged son entering our church’s Christmas Eve service and murmuring, “Wow. I miss this place.” For the first time, I noticed my mother playing with her neckline while she talked; just like her departed sister, my namesake, did. And, I beheld a homeless man, asking if he could pray for my mother.
I pray that I will remember Christmas 2013 as the year I discovered that Christmas isn’t a noun — it’s a promising. One season, like no other, that joins the world in hushed preparation for creation’s miraculous reveal, in faces and landscapes, streets and hospitals ... and, if we are truly blessed, in a manger.
Mary White is from the Malone area. She and her husband have five children, eight cats, two dogs and three guinea pigs. She has had the privilege of working with children and families (her own and other people’s) for more than 20 years. For more of her columns, visit http://marywhitelovestories.com.