Well hello, and Merriest of Christmas’s to you all!
Are you ready? Are you ready for whatever you’ll be doing to celebrate (or hibernate, or avoid life) over the next few days? I’m pretty ready – not as ready as I’d like to be, and yet here I am, writing a blog post instead of cleaning my counter tops or baking another batch of cookies. Ah well… some of us clean our houses, some of us are baking fools, and some of us write blog posts! Am I right??? ;)
Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been thinking a lot about Christmas – the ways we celebrated when I was a kid; traditions I cherished as a teen; ways that Todd and I celebrated with our own kids; and even where we are now.
Christmas Tree, 2014
When I think back, our family’s celebrations weren’t always like other families. My dad was a fireman, so he often needed to work on holidays, leaving my mom and the four of us kids home alone. I learned early on that we needed to be flexible, and that holidays could be held on alternate days. One Christmas I remember being very concerned when my parents said we’d open presents on Christmas Eve. I wanted to know if Santa would find us in time, or if Dad would have to miss it entirely. They suggested I write Santa a letter, requesting our family be one of the first stops on his list that night - maybe even while we were at church! “Will he do that?” I asked. “We don’t see why not,. He's gotta start somewhere,” they answered. I wrote the letter, and sure enough – Santa came early... Remarkable! J
I found one solid constant to our Christmas. Every Christmas Eve, from the time I was in Kindergarten until I was in eighth grade, I participated in our church’s Christmas program. From the weekend after Thanksgiving until Christmas Eve, the Sunday school children got together on Saturday mornings from like nine till noon, for practices. Each child received a verse that they’d speak as part of the Christmas story, and each class would process up to the front to deliver our important message. We memorized and sang Christmas songs, and worked at home with our parents, reciting the required words. To this day I remember every word of “Luke’s” precious message… “…for unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you – you will find the babe, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel, a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace, goodwill to men…”
As a teenager, I joined the church choir, and enjoyed learning Christmas music in four parts. I don’t really know if we sounded good or not; but I do know that I really loved being part of the group. I always sang alto, and I still like to harmonize. I’m the person who brings in the low part to “What Child is This” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” What can I say? Old habits die hard. During these teen years I was also part of our youth group. On a December Sunday afternoon we would decorate the church with green boughs and red bows; and then later that day, we’d go Christmas caroling – but not around the neighborhood. This group always went into nursing homes and to people’s homes where the elderly could no longer get to church. During these events, I noticed that our listeners often teared up, became emotional. At first I didn’t really understand why that happened. Christmas was such an exciting happy time. Tears did not yet compute to my early teenage brain. I told my mom about it, and she explained that perhaps they were thinking of years past, happier times of family and children, maybe loved ones that had passed away. Seeing our young faces, so full of hope and promise, singing the old traditional carols, might have brought out many feelings in them – from sadness to joy. “Even joy brings tears sometimes,” she said. I knew I’d never view caroling (or Christmas, for that matter) the same way again.
Megan and Tony on Santa's lap - 1988 :)
Outside of attending church, our family didn’t have hard and fast Christmas traditions. So when I met Todd, and he seemed to have ideas on all things Christmas – from gift giving, to decorating, to family parties – it took some getting used to. Does that seem odd? As I write this, I guess it seems odd to me; odd but true. Todd had many more ideas about all of this than I ever did. He loves Christmas, and that’s nice. I think it rubbed off on me too because we were pretty festive with our own kids – pretty elaborate with our descriptions of the who, what, where, when, why and how “certain things” happen at Christmas. (I’ll be vague here, just in case certain young eyes are reading) ;) We always tried to make Christmas special for our kids. Church on Christmas Eve remained our absolute constant, followed by gift-giving. It was always a lot of fun – even into their high school and college years – to have one of the kids run up the stairs after church and yell, “Santa came!”
Our house at night, during Christmas time
Last year, 2013, would have been the first year Todd and I celebrated without either of our children. Megan and Joe moved away in 2010, and Tony and Les moved away in November of 2013. But instead, we planned a trip to Nashville over the holidays, to buy ourselves a year to think about it. Tony found a church service down there that he thought we’d enjoy, and he was right – we did. Todd and I eventually exchanged gifts after we got back, our minds full of new memories of how the holiday could be spent. Now, here we are at 2014, and Megan and Joe are home to celebrate with both of the families. Do we have traditions? Yes and no… We do what we can. We celebrate with whoever is here, when we’re here. We’re hosting our annual Christmas Day brunch. The crowd may change, but the event can remain the same. Church on Christmas Eve??? Ummm – By now you know that’s non-negotiable!
As I look back on so many people, traditions, innovative new and old ways of celebrating Christmas, I’m grateful that we’ve been rich – not necessarily rich in “things” but in our experiences. And most of all, I love that it was instilled in me from very little on, that the only constant – the only thing I could never change about Christmas – wouldn’t want to change about Christmas – is celebrating the real reason for the season - Christ’s birthday – the main event – the one thing I’d never want to miss. “This, this is Christ the king, whom shepherds guard, and angels sing. Haste, haste to bring him laud, the babe, the son of Mary…”
So, as I said earlier, no matter your status over the next few days, be blessed. A very Merry Christmas to you all, and to all a good – no, a great – night!
Katie Kolberg Memmel is the author of “Five Fingers, Ten Toes – A Mother’s Story of Raising a Child Born with a Limb Difference.” For more information, go to her website: www.katiekolbergmemmel.com