Christmases past

I used to adore Christmas. I enjoyed caroling, making ornaments, and wrapping presents. The year before I retired, I wrapped 35 packages for my co-workers. They were identical gifts but each one was wrapped differently. It was a good way to use up the bits and pieces of ribbon, twine, lace, and paper that I had accumulated over the years and I had a good time wrapping them.

I was delighted to see bright red bows on my front windows and I got heady from the smell of pine when making my own wreath for the front door. I liked all the cooking and savored all the eating. I had fun making cookies and candy, and finding unique ways to package them for gifts. I cross-stitched intricate, personalized stockings for each of my children and I treasured the ritual of hanging them from the mantel and of filling them late at night.

We had a small tree on the dining room table with 25 little boxes under it, our countdown to the big day. Beginning on the first of December, one of the children would open a box, hang the tiny hand-painted ornament on the tree, and eat the Hershey Kiss that was always nestled inside. I would carefully unpack and set up our miniature nativity and our musical snow globe. I cherished watching the kids decorate the tree because each ornament that I unwrapped had a history, always a happy memory to share.

After the kids went to bed, I loved playing Christmas music while I hung antique, silvery icicles on the tree, one at a time so that they draped perfectly. I even liked taking them back off, one at a time, so that I could reuse them the next year. In those quiet moments, my heart would flood with memories of other Christmases, of decorating my Grandmother’s tree for her during the later years of her life, using the same icicles. I remembered Christmases from my childhood, of sitting on the floor playing new board games when even my father would play. I remembered spending the night before Christmas in the basement, trying to keep our new puppy quiet so that she wouldn’t wake up the kids.

Memories of getting dressed up and bundling up sleepy children for the late night Christmas Eve church service make me smile even now. The candlelight and the Christmas hymns made Christmas for me. Tucking my drowsy children into bed with promises of a visit from Santa while they were sleeping made my heart overflow.

Weeks of preparation ended on Christmas morning in a flurry of wrapping paper and ribbons, followed by a mad dash to visit all of the grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Chaos reigned until late afternoon when everyone except me went to the movies. I would then sit in the silence of my empty home while exhaustion hammered every part of my body and mind.

It may be a few steps beyond normal, but I’m always glad when the last of Christmas is packed away.

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