Ohhhhh I get so incredibly emotional at this time of year… (okay, well all year really.. but I digress). Christmas has always been so special to me. When I was little, on Christmas Eve my mom’s side of the family would all gather at my grandparents’ farm. I had eight cousins and it was MAGICAL. The music, the food, the laughter… my mom and my aunts would play the piano and sing. It was so special! Yes we all got gifts, and part of the fun was running in and finding the ones with our names on them. We would make our “piles” and wait not-so-patiently for the green light. Paper would fly and there would immediately be packaging from new toys all over the floor. In later years, when we were no longer getting toys for Christmas, we’d all be trying on the clothes we just opened. We were always allowed to open gifts as soon as the last people arrived; we never had to wait until after dinner and there was such a buzz of electricity in the air!
But it wasn’t about the gifts… they were such a small part of what made Christmas magical. It was picking out a fancy dress to wear, and my mom tying my hair in rags the night before. It was DESPERATELY wanting to be the first one there, and then impatiently waiting in the window for my cousins to arrive. It was Grandma Byrne standing in the kitchen in her apron, making her gravy that tasted like NO OTHER GRAVY IN THE WORLD. It was the huge record player in the front hall (one of those ones that looked more like a dresser), and the “James Last, Christmas Dancing” album that was playing every year. It was the slightly out of tune piano that my mom would play, and the sound of my aunts singing Silent Night and (Grandma’s favourite) Silver Bells. It was the flashing red bells that hung in the front window every year (and now hang in mine). It was the laughs, the teasing, the play fighting and the extra treats we all were allowed to have. It was knowing that as we slept that night, Santa would come and we couldn’t wait to see if he ate our cookies the next morning!
Christmas Eve at the farm wasn’t the only tradition that meant the world to me. My other grandparents might not have had such a large family (for many years it was just me!), but they loved me to bits and really went all out to make Christmas special. One year, when I was very small, I was in the kitchen with my Grandma Olga when suddenly there was a commotion in the front hall. There was the sound of the front door opening, a lot of shuffling, excited voices, and by the time I ran around the corner the door had slammed shut! All that was left were big, snowy boot prints on the front hall carpet, the lingering cold air from outside – and a new electric train set, all set up and zipping around the track – just for ME! My dad, Grandpa Doc and uncle Jim were all talking over each other… “You missed it! It was Santa!! He was JUST HERE!! He came with this train set for you, he set it up and then he was GONE! Just like that!” OH. MY. GOSH. I was incredulous! Full of disbelief! How could I have missed it?! He was RIGHT THERE! I ran to the door and threw it open, but Santa was gone. I spent the rest of the day in absolute AWE of Santa and his magic. Sure, I loved my neat new toy… but my excitement and joy came from the experience, not the present. I have never asked to know the story of that day, and I never will. The magic of that moment lives inside me, and I never – ever – want to lose that.
I see so many statuses on Facebook about buying gifts. Pictures of trees almost swallowed up by the mountains of presents around them. Everyone can’t wait to see their kids’ faces when they see all their new STUFF on Christmas day! That’s great and all, but I beg of everyone to remember that it’s SO much more than that. I am not going to get into any debate about religion – that’s not what my blog is about and I choose to keep my thoughts on that to myself – but what I’m talking about is LOVE. Family. Togetherness. Appreciation. Gratefulness. THANKFULNESS.
“These are a few of my favourite things…”
I don’t know about you, but as the years pass and our families grow, I don’t see my cousins or aunts and uncles much anymore. I don’t even see my own nieces and nephews very often. It used to be Sunday dinners. Then it was every other Sunday, and now it’s maybe once a month. Everyone has hockey or soccer or dance or gymnastics. Life is busy and sometimes I feel like we are losing each other. I miss my family.
So, on the rare occasion when we DO spend some quality time together, I am so grateful. I soak in every moment and I hope you do the same. Christmas is NOT about presents. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE surprising my kids with thoughtful gifts, especially things that they didn’t even KNOW that they wanted. I love making presents, I love putting effort into really making someone smile. But I will never just take a list of STUFF that my kids give me and go out and buy it. I am so tired of iPads and iPods and iPhones and apps and iTunes cards and all these crazy devices that keep us from interacting with each other. I am JUST as guilty of falling prey to them – I’ll be the first to admit it. But THIS year, I am so proud to say that there are no electronics under my tree.
What happened in Newtown has really stuck with me. I think of those parents every single day, and even though I know it’s to be expected, it still breaks my heart that the news coverage is starting to fade. Are we all going to forget what happened to those kids? Will we all bask in the glory of all our presents on Tuesday morning and forget what it’s really all about? I hope not. There are a lot of families who will not be celebrating this year, and if Christmas was really just about the gifts, they would be. It’s about the people. It’s about coming together and ending the year with the ones we love. If those people were no longer here, there just wouldn’t be much to celebrate, would there?
Christmases past haunt me sometimes. I miss all of my grandparents terribly. It’s been many, many years since I’ve been able to hear their voices or be wrapped up in one of their hugs, and that hurts. But I am so lucky to have so many incredible memories of them, and they are truly the ones who made Christmas magical for me. I hope that I’m able to instill the same amazing feeling in my own kids. Decorating and baking and visiting and singing and watching “Christmas Eve on Sesame Street” are so much of what keeps the magic alive!
In this house, the unwrapping is just a little gravy on top. (Even if it’s nothing like Grandma’s gravy…)
I think Sir Paul McCartney said it best:
The moon is right
The spirit’s up
We’re here tonight
and that’s enough
Simply having a wonderful Christmastime!
The party’s on
The feeling’s here
that only comes
This time of year
Simply having a wonderful Christmastime!
Merry Christmas, everyone. May your days be merry and bright!