The Loss of Christmas Past

Christmas decorations 061-2Last week I was looking at videos of Christmas’s past. My grandsons’ mother died this past year and there were home videos I wanted to copy for them so my beloved grandsons could sort out their memories of their lives with her. She suffered from mental illness so life could be crazy sometimes. My goal was to give them something to use as they grieve and to help them sort out the naughty and nice of this part of the tapestry that is being woven to define who they will be as they age.

As so often happens, I got hijacked along the way by my own tapestry that continues to be woven, even as it is fraying along the edges. The video I watched was of Christmas, 1995. It doesn’t sound that long ago but it was, 20 years long ago. The wine I drink and the cheese I eat haven’t aged that long. In 1995 I hadn’t yet arrived at the decade I would consider the prime of my life.

I became nostalgic as I watched that video of Christmas 1995. My whole family was together – my mother came from Florida, one sister from Wisconsin, and my other sister came from Grand Rapids. They brought their husbands and children. Our son was still married and they were there with our two grandsons, along with our youngest daughter who was home from college. In the video our home was bursting with activity and laughter and stories. We were all together – well almost, except my father who had died 14 months earlier and our other daughter who was living in Russia that year.

I felt sad when I realized it was the last time we would all get together as a family for Christmas. I enjoyed watching my mother talking and laughing and teasing me – she remarried and never came to Michigan for Christmas again, dying about ten years later. My baby sister moved to northern Wisconsin, a two-day drive away, making visits for holidays difficult – besides our children have grown, with families of their own. Between my offspring increasing and my other sister not wanting to travel the two hours to our home we didn’t see them at Christmas much after 1995. She died about three years ago. I have invited my brother-in-law and two nieces to our Christmas Eve celebration but they can’t come because of work responsibilities. My son’s marriage broke up so my daughter-in-law was no longer a part of our gatherings; her death three months ago didn’t have an impact on our gathering.

As I watched Christmas Eve 1995, I also realized that our youngest daughter hadn’t met and married her husband yet so he was missing, and they hadn’t given us our three bright and beautiful granddaughters. The Christmas video reminded me that families change over the years as some people leave, others are added, and sometimes configurations change.

On Christmas Eve 2015 we once again gathered – and our family was all together again. Except it was a different configuration from 1995, and our oldest grandson, his new wife, and our new adorable (step) great-grandson couldn’t be here. This year our daughter-in-law and her two young-adult children are “official” because they married our son last summer. We had welcomed them as real family several years ago, but this year was special because of the legal change.

It was a lovely gathering, full of joy and peace and good-will. Our home was alive as gifts were lovingly exchanged, and we laughed over our feeble attempts to explain how words (like poop) are related to the Christmas story as eight people gathered for a game of Scrabble (with new rules). We gathered around a long Christmas table set and decorated by our youngest granddaughter, sharing food the better cooks lovingly prepared. There was more laughter and bantering as children and grandchildren bartered unwrapped stocking stuffers they had picked from a pile in the middle of the floor.

I took video clips throughout the afternoon because I know that someday in the future the people we shared this beautiful and sacred day with will look at it and think about how Christmas used to be, feeling sad about those who are no longer present and how much things have changed. And then, hopefully, they will feel contentment with their new Christmas traditions filled with love, joy and peace.

Reflections of Christmas Passed: As if Nothing Has Happened

Which Way

I’m in a pensive mood. I’m remembering the excitement of preparations and our family party on Christmas Eve. Christmas Day was spent sitting by the Christmas tree (sans presents), gazing at the flame of the candle – I was tired to the bone. There is so much to think about.

I smile as I remember how I thought hard about the perfect gifts, wrapping each in carefully selected paper, with matching bows lovingly made. I remember the happy commotion as family arrived, greeted by granddaughters who had spent two night sleeping under our Christmas tree (checking out names on all the packages). There was laughter and cookies and hugs and dishes lovingly made for our dinner. The long table was set with red cloths and candles, Santa napkins and oranges in a crystal bowl. And the number of presents grew as people placed theirs under the tree. Children begged to open presents while the elders teased about needing a nap first.

Christmas Past

Today, on 26 December, I listen to Christmas carols, religious and sung a capella by well trained voices, and light a candle and the tree. I’m not ready to take down the ornaments. They are dear friends. Some are primitive ornaments made by the little fingers of children who later stood with bated breath while I opened them to oohs and aahs and said how very beautiful they are. These paper ornaments are hanging near the more expensive hand blown and crystal ornaments given by grown children and friends. I am not ready to pack away the ornaments I made in my handicraft days and those that remind me of trips to foreign places – both near and far. Each year it becomes harder to pack away those ornaments that are reminiscent of those that hung on trees of parents and grandparents, and those that were made by friends, who have all now passed. The tree brings me great joy, as do the wreaths and candles that decorate my house. I want to believe they have made our guests feel welcomed and special.

But I keep coming back to the meaning of Christmas. My daughter Sharon only puts out an advent wreath and manger because she doesn’t need all those other decorations. She carries the promise, in her heart and mind, of the salvation that is begun through the Christmas message. She has told me several times how frustrated she is that Advent does not seem to be a part of the Christmas story – the anticipation and waiting to observe once again if the promise will be fulfilled. She teases me about my decorations, but concedes they are tastefully done. I tell her that I do it all out of the meaning that is engraved in my heart – they are rituals of love that overflows because of this miraculous birth.

A family member, now deceased, used to want Christmas decorations put away right after Christmas and declared that it was as if nothing had happened. When we celebrate a religious event that happened so many years, do we want our world unchanged after the wrapping paper is burned and the tree put away. I want to be a different person, a new and improved person, every time I remember and celebrate this sacred event through these activities. What does it mean to me this year?

I’ve been thinking what this birth of Jesus means to me. This is the Baby God, called Emmanuel, God is With Us. This is the baby who is not only God but was also an ordinary person who walked dusty roads, got tired, cried when people died, shared meals with friends; the one who knew the pain of not being accepted or understood. He got his hands dirty and had to deal with the muddy relationships of life just like me. Because he was born as an infant – just like me, and experienced the ups and downs of life, just like me, I can believe that he understands. I know he feels my pain and sadness, my joy and happiness. So when he says he loves me just as I am, I know I can believe him. If he says I am lovable, then I can accept and feel the healing love of the human people who know me as I am. There is healing taking place because of remembering this birth this year.

Of course there is more to this story but it will have to wait until Easter.



Weekly Photo Challenge: Surprise – Under the Christmas Tree

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That’s my Kindle Paperwhite, in the green package with the red bow. The silver package behind it is a cover for it. They are my husband’s presents to me – I know what they are because I ordered them and wrapped them. He loves giving me surprises and presents but imagination isn’t his strong suit. I probably won’t be surprised Christmas Eve when I open them, but I couldn’t be more excited. I feel like a kid again, not able to stand the anticipation. I find it amazing how well our marriage is working since we gave up trying to do things as the “should” be done (like in our family of origin) and instead doing things the way that works best for us.

There are lots of surprises under the tree, however. Son, Mike, and I have our presents wrapped, and Natalia, his special love, sent presents for under our tree. She, and her two children, will be joining our celebration again this year. She is from Azerbaijan and found the most beautiful paper to reflect her heritage. See if you can pick it out.

Daughter, Sharon is flying in from Texas tonight and then will be picking up her special love, Joe, at the airport on Sunday. I am excited about Joe visiting from Arkansas for a few days because he cooks really good – and we like him a whole lot. Sharon e-mailed me that she had a couple of packages being delivered and to NOT OPEN THEM. It is about to drive me nuts – they will be a SURPRISE.

Sunday we will be meeting daughter, Carol, in Lansing to pick up our three granddaughters. It has become tradition for them to sleep under our Christmas tree on the night before our party on Christmas Eve. Grandsons Zach and Alex are a little too macho in their early 20’s to sleep under the tree, so they will be driving from Grand Rapids and Zach is bringing his special love, Kim.

I am so excited about our family coming together for another special holiday. I remember how exciting it is to gather at grandma & grandpa’s with the anticipation of surprises under the tree.

To join in the fun of the Weekly Photo Challenge click here.

Cees Fun Foto Challenge: Red Poinsettia

The Poinsettia is the flower that most symbolizes Christmas – so here is the red and green of it all. Jim and I commented on the purple and bright pink and bright blue ones in the grocery last night – all with sparkles painted on. They seem too gaudy for a holiday as sacred as Christmas is to Christians. Jim liked them so I’m glad I already had a plant given to me by friends Julie & Joanne – so he doesn’t feel the need to “surprise me” with one.

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We have always grown them indoors and have had some success at summering one outdoors but didn’t get the leaves to turn red. That takes 12 hours of total darkness for several days in a row plus abundant daylight for 12 hours. It amazed me when I first saw a large shrub blooming outside in central Florida. It is native to Mexico.

Here is where to go if you have a great idea for sharing red & green for Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge.

Christmas Ornaments: Memories

New purchase!

What a joy! What a joy to decorate the Christmas tree this year. The past eight years have been difficult and there was one year when we didn’t put a tree up because I’m the one who decorates them and I didn’t have the energy. Another year I got the artificial tree up and the light on and I couldn’t go any further. The past two years I was healing from knee replacement. Both years I remember feeling sadness because I wasn’t enjoying decorating the house. In fact last year I only put about half the ornaments on the tree.

Not this year. This year I was excited as the day of getting out the ornaments drew near. Ohhh, the anticipation of opening the storage box and finding my treasures. I gently unwrap each from its blanket of tissue paper, not knowing what I will find. The paradox of knowing what is there, but not knowing. Being surprised when finding an almost forgotten ornament and feeling the warmth when seeing a well-remembered one. They have been out of sight and out of mind for eleven months.

When did I get this old, when did it happen? My ornaments chronicle so many years and so many experiences. I don’t remember our first Christmas trees – except that the very first one was really big. We cut it ourselves at a tree farm and they always look smaller under the endless sky. We had 10-foot ceilings and it went all the way up – and it had a huge trunk. As I was decorating it, it fell over towards me and I had fears of having to hold it for 6 hours until my new husband would rescue me. But I was able to lean it back in the corner. We bought a bigger stand that night.

I couldn’t remember how we decorated those first few trees so I got out my box of old pictures – the kind you hold in your hand. The first thing that struck me was that I didn’t recognize that young woman holding the baby in front of the tree. In my mind I still feel like her – it feels like just yesterday but my body has aged – so much. I can’t figure out when or how it happened. What stands out about the tree is that it was covered in foil icicles – the kind that hang down and shimmer when someone walks by. Our tree of a few years later also had strung popcorn. I liked popcorn garlands and after Christmas we put the tree outdoors for the birds to eat the popcorn. I miss not having a live tree but Jim doesn’t like the work of putting them up and taking them down – his body must have aged too but I don’t seem to notice it.

Crystal Ornament from my son.

Crystal Ornament from my son.

The ornaments we have now were collected over the next 48 years. I still have ornaments made by my itty-bitty ones in Sunday School and preschool, but I don’t use them because they are getting fragile. I did hang ornaments made by my three granddaughters – in a place where they will be sure to see them. I also have several ornaments that I made – back when I was a stay-at-home mom. Every year I smile as I think about splurging on a magazine about decorating for Christmas and then buying the supplies to make some of them. I still see the magazines at the checkout, and I desire the excitement but it isn’t where I’m at now. Maybe it is better to remember fondly than to long for what is past. Different things excite me now. (Click on any image for slide show.)

I also have many ornaments that were made for me by relatives and friends. Unwrapping them and finding special places on the tree brings me special joy. Every year the love that went into making them just for me is renewed in my heart. I also have two ornaments that could be well over 70 years old because they belonged to each of my grandmothers. Now I can’t be sure which belonged to whom but accuracy of memory isn’t important. What is important is that every year I unwrap them from their protective tissue and smile because I believe – I believe they hung on their trees and I know my grandmas’ love sustained me and filled my heart with enough love to give to others for my whole life.

Whenever possible I have purchased ornaments when I have traveled. As I unwrap these, I am able to remember the joy of these trips and many times remember the special people I visited or met. I am reminded that I have lived a very full life and am truly blessed.

I now feel confident that I’m glad to have lived all those years because they sure were full ones.