Holiday Hodgepodge#4: the How-I-Know-the-Holidays-are-Here Edition
Holiday Hodgepodge #6: Wise Women Seek Him Still

Holiday Hodgepodge #5: A Memory Never Written

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?



When our children were younger, we wanted to teach them the value of selfless service, so we hatched this idea to do the "Twelve Days of Christmas": you know, you pick a person or family who needs some love at Christmas time, and for the twelve days before Christmas, you doorbell-ditch them with gifts relevant to the family and to the season. The important part is to never get caught, and never reveal who you are.

We thought we were being so original. Nobody had ever thought of this. And the best part about it was, it would be our own little secret. We felt somehow betrayed or one-upped when we started hearing other people tell about their adventures doing the same thing. Well, we still kept our secret, and to this day, with our youngest away at college, it's still a family secret.


Can I tell another one?

Over the years, we have enjoyed giving selfless service, especially around Christmastime. We have been so blessed - or lucky, or simply well taken care of - that we have always wanted to give back by giving something to others in need.

Last December, after several years of joblessness and desperate financial straits, we had our Christmas carefully organized around our meager budget. On the Sunday before Christmas, our church had organized a Sunday-afternoon activity where we assembled baskets of food (not just goodies, but real groceries suitable for a Christmas feast) and delivered them to the needy families in our congregation. It was cold, and since it was close to winter solstice it got dark quickly, but we had fun serving in this way.

Not long after we returned home, our doorbell rang. I opened the door, to find a member of our congregation standing there with a basket of food for us. That stark moment of cognitive dissonance was like ... well, that's how it must feel to see yourself on TV for the first time. We had never considered ourselves "needy," but somebody did, and somebody cared enough to perform this act of service for us.

But we got a little extra in our basket. After I thanked the brother and took the basket inside, I saw an envelope nestled among the apples and oranges. I assumed it was a greeting card, but when I opened the envelope, several hundred-dollar bills fell out.

You know, I know that Christmas 2009 was full of fun times, and love, and family togetherness, but I don't remember any of that stuff - at least not with the photographic clarity with which I remember that basket of food. And now that we're back on a firm financial foundation, I never want to forget that basket.

Kim D

My favorite thing about Christmas is the early morning, while it's still dark outside. We three get a fire going in the stove, and we sit together, lit only by the light of the fire, the tree and one small lamp. We are together, the mother, the father and the son. We get coffee or cocoa and take turns sharing what's in our stockings. It's slow and easy and special. I treasure those mornings with "my boys." But we have no family here, where we've chosen to live, so some Christmases we travel to be with those we love. Last Christmas, we traveled to be with my mother. She's alone; my dad passed away six years ago. The holidays are especially hard for her because Christmas was also my dad's birthday. He loved the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the decorating, the cooking, and most of all, having family near. So last Christmas, we traveled to be with her. I knew my brother would be home. He works for weeks at a time on a boat, and often misses holidays. My sister said she'd be coming with her daughter who had just finished college, but her husband and two sons wouldn't be able to come. I was resigned to not having my special Christmas time, but it was OK. Christmas morning, it was just Mom and we three, and I could see what it meant to her to have us there. Then my brother and his wife arrived, and it was even better. Mid-day, I looked out the window and saw my sister and her daughter get out of the car - they'd driven 6 hours that morning to be with us. But they weren't alone; my brother-in-law and two nephews piled out of the car, too. The oldest is 27 and out on his own, so we really didn't expect him. And then we were all together, the whole family. My mother had all her children and grandchildren around her, and the joy was visible on her face. Thinking about her joy brings tears to my eyes today. Last Christmas was not the Christmas I thought I wanted, but it was the best Christmas I could have ever imagined.


I must write on my calendar for Dec 1, 2011 - "Read Amy's blog posts for Dec. 2010" - because these are all touching me in such wondeful ways and even the comments are full of the things we lose sight of in the midst of preparing for that special day.

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