A few days ago, my sister Becky wrote about the four levels of Christmas (the Santa level, the social level, the infant Christ level, the adult Christ level). I loved this post of hers (not the least because she included the sentence "We don't kill baby Jesus with Transformers!"), but for me, something was missing. There is a fifth level, which perhaps comes after the social level, and it is memory. The holidays, for me, are of course about right now, about this year, the planning and the shopping and the celebrating, but they are also deeply entwined with all the last years, too.
Of course, quite a few of those memories come from my childhood Christmases, but as my kids have gotten older I am also cherishing memories from their childhood Christmases. This morning I found myself thinking about Christmas of 1999 for some reason. This was the Christmas that Nathan was a baby. Born in the middle of November, he was still, literally, a newborn for the holidays. And even though I was exhausted—Haley was only four, and Jake was almost two, so they were all three little and needy; all three of them had the chicken pox sequentially instead of simultaneously; Kendell went out of town for work—I loved having a newborn for the holidays. It is one of my favorite Christmases.
Please don't start thinking I have failed at my scrapbooking duties. That Christmas has been scrapbooked and journaled about long ago. But there is a memory I haven't written down anywhere. Isn't that odd? I try so hard to make sure experiences get documented, but there are always unwritten stories, tales that get told but never written down. Here is one of mine:
That year, an Internet friend (whose name I have now forgotten) mailed me a tiny nativity. It came in a box with a Styrofoam insert, with holes molded to the shapes of the pieces. Haley and Jake played with that nativity all December long. At first I worried. What if a piece got broken? Or lost? But then I realized: it didn't matter. They were involving themselves, quite literally, in the Christmas story, the real reason we celebrate. I bought a tiny stool and painted it green. I told them it was the spot for their nativity. We kept it under the tree, and they'd sit there, arranging the figures. Haley's favorite was the angel and Jake's was the shepherd with his crook. (He did break that piece, snapped the crook right out of the shepherd's hand, but I glued it back together and it's still fine today.) In their bright, childish voices—Haley still had a little lisp, and Jake was still learning language—they'd talk about which figure should go where, and why. They'd line them up, or put them in a circle around the manger; they'd take them on adventures with their other toys and to bed with them at night.
They also loved to pack and unpack the nativity. They'd find the box, slide out the insert, and figure out which piece went into which hole, then dump all the pieces out and start over. The box and the insert and the puzzling-out of which figure went where was part of the magic for them. But they also loved to sit with me by the tree. This usually happened while I was nursing the baby; we'd snuggle up together in the big chair and I'd tell them the Christmas story with their little nativity, holding up the pieces as best I could with one hand, giving them figures to hold as the story progressed.
In my mind, those memories have changed colors from the real, bright-as-day hues; I've lost the details of the messy house and the exhaustion of the new baby and the chicken-pox-induced whining and even the arguing over whose turn it was to pack and unpack. Stripped of whatever was difficult, the memories are clearer and richer, with amber and violet, russet and pine-green and vermilion hues. Everything lit by the lights from the tree, illuminated by peaceful happiness.
I'm still grateful for the gift of that little nativity. We still have it, of course, and put it on its green stool. Haley and Jake still usually argue over who gets to take it out of its box. The shepherd is still held together with glue, and the box is sort of ragged, and there's a little chip out of one of the angel's wings. But it is inherent to Christmas. It gives me back a measure of what I had then (the sweet little voices and the pure excitement and the feeling of a baby in the house) to mix with what I have now (which, honestly, is sometimes hard, this teenage adventure we're on, but still is good, is full of conversation and laughter and music). It gives me hope: in another decade, when my world has changed considerably, I'll remember right now, will remember this year, with the stripped-of-difficulties perspective time gives, in the rich and glowing hues of memory.
What Christmas memory have you not written?