Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Magic

The sound of my children's laughter will forever be emblazoned on my heart. Their wide-eyed wonderment as they catch those big fluffy chunks of frozen glory as they swirl and twirl through the air on their way toward the earth will be something I will treasure always. As I help my children make their memories, I often find my mind wandering to the bygone days of my own youth.
I am the oldest of five. I have two sisters and two brothers. We have had our share of adventures and memories, many of which are wrapped up in Christmas cheer. As soon as we grasped the concept of telling time, we began to camp out in the Girls' Room playing cards and reading books by the soft red or green glow of our night light. Every hour on the hour after Midnight struck we would knock on my parents' bedroom door pleading with them to get up and get Christmas started. My mother would usually cave at around 5 am when she would convince my father to drag himself, half-asleep, from bed and make his way slooooowly to the living room. We would all be gathered at the very edge of the hall outside the kitchen, trying to catch glimpses of the magic glow the Christmas Tree would cast from the living room. No matter how hard we tried, the angle was never good enough to catch that first view of the mountain of presents nestled under the tree. After what seemed like an eternity, my father would plant himself on the couch with the Bible and we would scrambled to the living room, hoping to be the first one to take in that glorious view. We would all find our stockings and a spot in front of the Christmas tree and my father would read the Christmas story from Luke 2. As we grew older, we all would get the honor of reading the Christmas story.
After the beautiful reminder of what the day is about, we would tear into our stockings, our favorite part of the Christmas Present Ritual. Somehow my mother always managed to find the best things to fill our stockings with, and no matter how hard I try, I do not think I will ever match her talent in stocking stuffing. Of course we all would get our token toothbrushes and chap stick, but she would hand pick things for each one of us right down to quenching our thirst for reading. My parents never had tons of money to finance Christmas, but somehow we always managed to get everything we wanted and needed. My mom had a way with making things magical and beautiful and stretching the almighty dollar, not to mention teaching us the basic virtue of being thankful for what we have.
I remember the year my parents would mysteriously retreat to the basement and build things like elves in Santa's workshop. We were forbidden to play in the basement that year as they would go down their religiously and build Something. I remember Christmas morning finding the biggest doll house I had ever seen. The floors were wide and it had carpet that matched the church and linoleum that matched my grandmother's kitchen. The outside of the house was painted cream and trimmed with brown just like our house. There was a jewelry box filled with Barbie shoes inside. There was a front door and windows and even some wicker furniture. Joshua got a wooden backhoe for the sandbox he could sit on and control the digger. Those toys got played with for years, and to this day I regret ever dragging my dollhouse outside and never bringing it back in. Years later, when my daughter was old enough, I asked my parents to make my daughter her own dollhouse. It is taller and beautiful and sits in her room. It, too, gets played with a lot. Those handmade gifts always carried with them much more value than the store bought ones.
Every year we would get a family gift in addition to the individual ones, and often times this would be the big ticket item. Sometimes it would be in the form of a board game, but there were years when even us kids would be surprised. I can remember the year my parents bought the family a VCR. We didn't have any video tapes, so they taped The Sound of Music off of the television so we would have something to watch. To this day I believe that video was the most watched movie in our house, in spite of the grainy quality and occasional snow. I remember the year they bought the video camera. That year is chock full of embarrassing home movies of my siblings and I (mostly I...) as we hammed it up for future generations. My husband will occasionally pull these out just to watch me pinch my nose and forget the words to Rudolf in my Christmas pajamas. Ahhhh, those awkward adolescent years!
One of the more amusing things I find at Christmas time is my mother's insistence on using a number system instead of name tags on all the gifts. I guess when she was a child, her and her brothers would shake their gifts and figure out who got what. My grandmother cleverly combated this by creating a number system and hiding the list in her unmentionables. Of course they all knew where the list was and figured out not only which gift was whose, but what they were. My siblings and I never set out to intentionally discover what our presents were, although we did like to shake the presents and proudly announce that each and every one was either a puzzle or underwear. There were those times, of course, when we would ruin the surprise by accidentally discovering a present or two while we were pulling back flips off of the window seat onto my parents' bed. And then there was the year that astounded all of us. I think I was about 9 years old. Caleb was not born yet, and Hilary was just about a year old. Jessica, Joshua, and I were pulling capers in my mom's room, and it was probably about a week or so before the Big Day. Her room is off limits around birthdays and holidays, but we didn't care. Flipping off of the window seat was too much fun. (Younger readers: do not attempt, you could break your neck and I was crazy....) We of course were discovered as flipping is never a quiet event when it involves 3 kids ages 7, 8, and 9. She hurriedly shooed us from her room and sent us in search of other means of entertainment. We awoke Christmas morning- well, we never slept, actually- the same as other years, and waited for our dad to find his customary place on the couch before we could rush the Christmas tree hunting for our stockings. It had to have been a good ten or fifteen minutes before Jessica stopped what she was doing and shouted, "Dad has a kitten!!!!" We all stared at him in astonishment. There he was, on the couch, cradling the sweetest orange kitten we had ever seen. We had all been hoping for a kitten ever since our cats Nicki and Casey died, but our parents had never given in. My mother thought the surprise was ruined the day we were jumping on her bed as kitty paraphernalia was scattered throughout her room in plain view. We never saw it. As we all forgot about the rest of the unopened gifts, we hurried to play with our new best furry friend. I remember holding him as we all pondered what to call him. He then leaped from my arms and scurried up the Christmas tree and back down. Such a spunky little kitty. "Frisky," I suggested. So it had been decided that until we could come up with a better name, Frisky he would be. He looked just like the kitten on the Frisky's kitten cat food box. It was perfect. The name stuck, and that cat has to be the single most wonderful magical cat I have ever encountered. He was individually all of our cat, making it a routine to rotate to a new bed each night. He always knew when one of us was sad, and he had the loudest purr motor. He knew all of our secrets, and frequented our thinking spots. I miss that cat, and to this day believe that orange cats have some kind of magic quality about them, although I have yet to meet another cat as wonderful as him. He died a few years ago, and I never cried so hard for an animal than I did for him. And while my husband may never be a true cat person, I will forever maintain that every home should have one, especially if he or she is orange.
These memories are endless and they continue to grow as I have my own children now and we forge our own traditions. Over the past 9 years we have come to establish that our Christmas Eve shall fall on December 23 and Santa brings the kids presents a day early, so that we can have the holidays open for the rest of the family while still having our special day to ourselves. One tradition that I carry on with my children is that Christmas Eve they get to open a present and it usually involves pajamas. We read a favorite Christmas story, and I happen to have two from my childhood: The Christmas Story and The Littlest Angel that are read often in our home this time of year. The children do not yet wake up every hour on the hour to drag us out into the living room to see what Santa has brought them, and I am not sure that will ever happen, even though I still have a hard time sleeping on Christmas eve myself.... After we have our morning together as a family, we pack up the car and the Golden Retriever and head North to spend the remainder of the holidays with our family. Seth's cousins host a huge family party and we love seeing everyone there. It is fun seeing all the little cousins play and watch the June babies grow. Christmas morning is spent at my mothers and she loves seeing my kids first thing on Christmas morning, perpetuating the traditions forged from my own childhood with the next generation. We gather around and read Luke 2, and this year my mother is revisiting her old tradition by creating stockings for her grandchildren this year so that my children too will know of Grammy's magic touch. This year will be a tad different as my brother Joshua and his wife are out in NY celebrating Christmas in their new home and my Grandparents are already south for the winter, but here's to new traditions. I am excited to see my brother Caleb's fiance Gabby, my sister Hilary, my sister Jessica and her girls and making another year of new memories with my family. Christmas for me is wrapped up in memories and making new ones. It is about spending time with the ones I love and treasuring those moments, as they are fluid and seem to pass all too soon. The wonderful thing about memories is that we can transcend time and revisit them as often as we wish.

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