The One Christmas I'll Never Forget
What Is Christmas Joy?
Our first Christmas as a single parent household was probably the most meaningful and the most joyous of any Christmas ever for me, and hopefully for my girls as well. I was working two jobs in Crested Butte, and living on Main St. in Gunnison, just at the edge of town. It was tough that winter. It seemed like every time payday rolled around, my car needed something, or one of the kids got sick. It was always something back then.
I didn't really know how to explain to my kids that Christmas wasn't going to happen, if they were expecting Christmases like they used to have. For many months I thought about how I could pull Christmas off, maybe saving a few dollars here and there, but it just wasn't working. It took every penny to pay our rent and our bills and I was never home.
I finally sat the girls down - they were about 8 and 11 back then, and told them that I thought it was a good idea if we made each other gifts that year, instead of spending money on gifts. In my mind, I guess I was reluctant to say anything to them earlier because I thought they'd be terribly disappointed, but instead, they both immediately came up with about four really good ideas for projects we could do for each other, the grandparents, and a few friends. I kept their gifts from me a secret, and helped them with each other's, and they helped each other with their gifts to me. It was wonderful! The weeks before Christmas were filled with hushed whispers, and the sounds of scissors dropping, muffled giggles, and papers being folded. They were simply giddy, and for once, it wasn't about Santa Claus or the concept of how much they would receive.
I came home from work on Christmas eve to find a LOT of presents under our tree and it was fully decorated. We had a few lights and bulbs from years past that we'd put on one evening right after Thanksgiving, but they really decked it out! They used the air popper to make popcorn garlands, a bag of cranberries to make a red garland, and made ornaments using my cookie cutters and clay. They were carefully cut and painted at the dining room table. Evidence was everywhere! but it was okay...the fun they had and the spirit they felt, of true Christmas JOY, was worth the mess and then some.
I got my guitar out and we sang old John Prine songs along with the standard Christmas carols - at the top of our lungs. I even bounced on the bed with them before tucking them in, instead of my usual, having to ENFORCE the bedtime, STOP JUMPING rule. It was fun.
When Christmas morning came around, I woke early and made omlets, hashbrowns, and homemade biscuits with homemade raspberry jam - they didn't get the jam too often simply because they were complete pigs about it, and could down an entire jar of it in a matter of minutes, so it was a special treat that morning. Putting up jams and jellies was always an unnerving task for me, so I held on to the look of them lining the pantry shelf as long as I possibly could. But this was a special morning that needed a special treat.
I turned on the Christmas music while my babies slept, and the smells wafted about the house. One by one, the sleepy angels emerged, rubbing their eyes. Both of them made their way to the tree while I finished up in the kitchen. They turned the tree lights on, and just sat there - guessing what was inside each box, and reading the name tags. Somewhere I have this photograph, or maybe it's simply etched in my mind's eye - my beautiful girls, in their long flannel night gowns, smiling as bright as any star I've ever seen, so very proud of themselves for the effort they put into making gifts and learning what really giving means.
At the breakfast table, the laughter took over many times. It was a happy morning, with anticipation of opening gifts. My parents were always more than generous at Christmastime, as were other friends of the family, other grandparents, aunts and uncles. So it was as if all my worrying about them not 'getting' much for Christmas had suddenly morphed into this abundance that was every bit as much as any year in the past - any year I had spent the big bucks. This year was about something else, though - not the abundance of presents, but of the abundance of blessing and love. The power of giving gives us that gift - that infinite ability to 'not care' what we're 'getting' for Christmas, but instead to anticipate the real joy of seeing someone's face light up in pure thankfulness and joy. THOSE are the kinds of gifts you never forget.
Before we opened gifts that morning, we read about the birth of Jesus in the book of Luke. No matter how many times I've read those verses, no matter how many times they've heard the story, we all come away from Luke with a feeling of true thankfulness, that His grace that night in a manger, was born for our iniquities. My girls were in awe, as was I that day, at how MUCH MORE it meant on this particular Christmas, when there wasn't all the greed involved. He was there with us, and it was His day, above all else. We sang happy birthday to Jesus after we finished up with the Bible story, and then it was time.
As they ran into the living room and dropped to their knees, I thought to myself, now this is a wonderful life.