Looking Back on Christmas Day

Christmas has officially concluded for our household. Yesterday was the last hurrah with a wonderful but too-brief stay with my dad’s family and a stop by the hotel room holding my sister-in-law and her significant other, delayed in their plans by a winter storm.

It’s been a good Christmas. One of the best in recent memory, I believe. And it all started Christmas Eve. I’m not talking about my emotional experience in church that night, although that might have set the stage. No, I’m talking about the 4 or 5 hours that followed.

We stopped by a friend’s house who had set up a light display set to music being broadcast on a particular radio frequency. The kids were frustrated because we hadn’t eaten dinner before the worship service and they were fairly sure they were starving. But then they saw the pulsing lights and were mesmerized. We sat through several songs before heading home.

Once home and fed and the youngest in bed, the magic started. As I mentioned in my Christmas Eve post, the older two had some magnificent decorating plans. It was now mostly a surprise for Hal, but I consented to staying holed up in my bedroom while they worked. We had plenty of surprises of our own so that was fine with us.

I sat on the bed cutting yarn and tinsel strands to construct the contents of the box I would assemble above the boys’ door, with a string tied to the doorknob. My hope was that when they eagerly and enthusiastically opened the door in the morning, the string would pull the flap down and all the stuff would fall down in front of them, revealing the first clue to their scavenger hunt. (It didn’t work, by the way. Hal inexplicably opened the door slowly and then stood there saying “What the heck?” as he examined the string tied to his doorknob. I rushed from my room to yank on the string. Not quite the same effect.)

My husband sat at the edge of the bed and worked on assembling three puzzles on a card table for part of the hunt. Our intent was to intermix the pieces from all three puzzles, turn it over, write the 6-line poem that represented the second clue on it, then separate the pieces back out to their respective puzzles. That didn’t work either. The pieces were all shaped the same but they were off just enough that we couldn’t mix them. So we went with plan B, which was to write the poem lines across all three puzzles but then mix the puzzle pieces in the three boxes. The puzzles, which were wildly age-inappropriate (way too young) would then go in the stockings.

As we sat and worked in relative silence, we listened to the activity outside our door. Jane and Daryl were working together as they never had before. They spoke in hushed tones but we could still hear them. The were excited and eager to impress Hal with all the lights and paper chains and huge paper snowflakes they had made. They listened to each other’s ideas and encouraged and supported each other. I was mesmerized.

Every once in awhile, they’d come to the door and ask where to find more staples, whether it was OK to attach lightweight items to the ceiling fan, whether all the Christmas lights could be left on over night. My husband and I were both tickled that they had gotten into the spirit of doing stuff for others on Christmas.

At one point, they tried to be considerate of my needs and informed me that they’d be in Jane’s room for awhile if I wanted to come out and do my thing. I laughed and informed them that 1) I had plenty to keep me busy in my room for now and 2) I wasn’t doing any part of my thing until they were in bed.

Eventually, they declared themselves done and we came out for a tour. I had suggested the tour when the realization that I would see the decorations before morning had disappointed them. They wanted to see our faces.

They had done an impressive job. Lights lined the walls of the hallway and living room, including some lit snowflakes over the boys’ door (which would make my plans more challenging). A very long white paper chain nearly encircled the living room and large snowflakes hung everywhere. And these weren’t your average fold-the-paper-then-cut-out-notches snowflakes. No, these were state-of-the-art 3D snowflakes that Daryl had learned to make at Sunday School a few days earlier. A large 3D snowflake hung from each of the three fan blades, which turned very slowly in the center of the room.

I was impressed by their results but even more impressed by the cooperation and love and kindness that had gotten them there. I couldn’t wait for Christmas morning.

Of course, there was still work of my own to do. It took another 2 hours for me to setup the scavenger hunt and prepare their stockings (including the “auxiliary bags” for the overflow items that wouldn’t fit – sitting on the floor with a strand of yarn attaching them to their stockings) .

We assembled the box as quietly as possible over their door. I traipsed around outside hiding the final clues that would keep them out of the house long enough for my husband to move the new PS4 from our bedroom to the living room, to be setup and ready to go when the hunt brought them back into the house. I somehow managed to work directly under Jane’s window without alerting the dog to my presence although she caught my flashlight later and announced the outside “intruder” to the entire house.

Back inside, I taped “Rudolph Chow” on the dog food can so when the part of the hunt that included Santa’s Grocery List came up, they could find “reindeer food”. I taped clues under the carton of milk, behind all the mirrors in the house, on the power bar that holds all their electronics chargers, under some cookie tins. I had already searched through books for the words needed for one clue and carefully hid the clue behind a cabinet door in the bathroom. The clue gave them the book title plus three numbers: page, paragraph on page, and word in the paragraph.

I finally made it to bed about 1:30 in the morning. I didn’t sleep well – I don’t anyway but on nights when I am anticipating something, it’s even worse. I was awake before any of the kids, just waiting for them to join me.

Throughout Christmas Day, my kids told me this was the best Christmas ever. We did have our bumps, but overall, it was magical. They love opening their stockings and they enjoy our scavenger hunt. But the two older ones specifically mentioned how much they liked the new tradition.

Based on a picture moving around Facebook, we limited their presents to 4 each (the PS4 was a gift to the whole family). The four gifts followed a pattern:

Something they want, something they need

Something to wear, something to read

Daryl hadn’t wanted this approach. “Only four presents?!” he had asked. But by the end of the day, he was sold. He wasn’t sure why but he had really liked it. We figured it out together.

Since we were only buying them four presents, we had to stop and think about what to give them. We had to come up with precisely the right gifts. As Daryl put it, “Instead of just getting us a bunch of toys, you got us just a few of exactly what we wanted.”

He didn’t even know how much he had wanted (needed!) new bedding, but the NBA-themed sheets and comforter excited him tremendously. Hal walked around all day in the new church clothes we bought him – tie and loafers included! Jane couldn’t believe she got both a new pair of Tom’s (need!) and her long-desired Uggs (wear).

To top the day off, we invited some friends over for lunch and afternoon game playing while they waited for their husband/dad to get off work that evening to have their family Christmas.

All in all, it was a wildly successful and happy day. I hope we have many more like it.

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Silent Night

It’s been a good week. Time has moved relatively slowly, not rushed – despite the fact that we didn’t really start working toward Christmas until Sunday. We did a bunch of shopping and planned our Christmas surprises and in general enjoyed ourselves. We actually had our Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve, just the five of us plus Jane’s boyfriend. It was a relaxing day. To top it all off, two packages that we thought weren’t going to arrive until after Christmas arrived just in time. Life was going well. This might have contributed to what happened that night.

I have always enjoyed the Christmas Eve worship service. Most services I have attended over the years have involved Lessons and Carols. The service alternates between Scripture reading and Christmas hymns. The last song is almost always Silent Night, sung by candlelight after the light of the Christ candle in the Advent wreath is used to light everyone’s handheld candles.

In my experience, people then file silently out of the sanctuary. It is a very solemn and spiritual moment. This year, however, my church added Joy To The World to the end of the service. And I was one of four people playing bells for it.

This meant that I walked up to the front of the sanctuary, behind the altar, just in front of the chancel area, before the candles were lit for Silent Night. We needed to be ready for Joy To The World, so we would sing Silent Night up front instead of in our pews.

I was looking down at my music and in general getting ready when the pastor approached with the flame. I lit my candle from his and turned to Jane who lit hers from mine. We each turned behind us to the choir so someone could light theirs from ours. And then we turned around.

I was stunned. All but the back few rows already had their candles lit. It was glorious and beautiful. It took my breath away. And then we started singing Silent Night – that beautifully haunting song. I had the benefit of a dozen gifted singers right behind me and the lights of candles lighting up the faces of my church family in front of me.

My throat constricted. I had to force the song through. I sternly told myself not to cry. Not because there’d be anything wrong with that but because it would prevent me from joining my voice with the choir. I regained my composure.

And then I saw my middle child standing there by himself – his father was in the choir. His mother and sister preparing to play bells. His little brother asleep in the pew. I thought of the darling boy who couldn’t wait to light his candle who was now sleeping through the song. I looked at the smile on my standing son’s face – the son who had lit his candle without adult supervision and hadn’t burned anything down. His smile was beaming. I think he had forgotten to sing.

I saw the man on hospice care sitting in his wheelchair in the center aisle. It had to have taken so much energy for he and his wife to have been there. I hadn’t seen either one of them in months.

Then I saw my friend and her aging mother. Her mother but not her father, who had passed away earlier this year. Her mother was still grieving and was starting to get confused and requiring more focused care. My friend was trying to help her mother with the candle. It was not unlike helping a child. But both of their faces were lit up with the light of Christ. They were beautiful. In all their love and struggle and grief. they were beautiful. It was Christmas Eve. And everyone was beautiful.

My throat constricted again and I pushed through a little less successfully. I was sure I had never seen anything more powerful or heard anything more powerful or been part of anything more powerful. A single tear traced a path down my cheek and I let it travel without wiping it away.

My church family means so much to me. My biological family lives at least four hours away – all of them. So when I need help and support, it’s my church friends who provide it. And it’s them who receive my support. But this went beyond that. Beyond love of my brothers and sisters in Christ.

I am, in my heart, a skeptic. I analyze, I doubt, I require proof. I do not accept a literal reading of all parts of the Bible. I have a modern look at it. There are many things that members of my congregation believe that I do not. I can understand where atheists are coming from. I can.

But in that moment, with the beautiful music swelling around me and the soft glow lighting people’s faces and the tear on my cheek, I saw the hope. I felt the hope. I shared the hope. I’m still the same person with all the same beliefs and doubts. That will likely never change – it’s how God made me. But that moment was sacred for me. I can only assume I felt my “heart strangely warmed” the same as John Wesley felt so many years before me.

I am at peace. Merry Christmas everyone.

When Does Santa Come?

“Mom, what time does Santa come?”

This question came from my fifteen year old daughter, who is fully cognizant of the true reality of Santa. The question intrigued me.

“He comes after everyone goes to bed,” I replied.

“And what time is he usually done?”

“He tries to be done as early as possible so he can get a good night’s sleep.”

“So like 10 or 11 o’clock?” She probed.

“Yes, but he wouldn’t be happy if children were out and about after the presents and stockings were out.”

“Well, he’s just going to have to be ok with it.”

“What are you wanting to do?”

“I can’t tell you. It’s a surprise.”

“It would make more sense to set an alarm for 5 or 6 than to try to stay up past Santa’s departure.”

“Well, it’s something Daryl wants to do and we thought we’d set an alarm for like midnight or 1:00 because if we waited until morning, Hal might wake up early and ruin it.”

She then proceeded to spill the beans on what Daryl wanted to do, which is a shame because I like surprises and what he has in mind is really sweet. Then again, it’s probably better that I have at least an inkling since there’s no way they could slip out of their rooms and add some decoration in the living room without me waking up.

And movement in the living room during the night before Christmas is a surefire way to get me out of bed.

Of course, this presents me with a dilemma. I do what we call a scavenger hunt on Christmas Day. It’s not really a scavenger hunt, more a series of clues that the kids solve to lead them to the next clue and then eventually to their big gift.

It’s a lot of work to put together and this year, I plan on going big. I wanted to arrange something over the door with a string tied to the doorknob so that when they opened the door, tinsel (and the first clue) would come cascading down on their heads. I’d rather the tinsel not cascade down on their sneaky little heads at 1:00 in the morning.

So now I guess I get to be the one setting an alarm for 5:00 to attempt to install the contraption without waking anyone up. It’s considerably easier to make noise in the hallway without waking people up at the start of their night of sleep, not the end.

This could be trickier than the early-morning-oops-I-forgot tooth fairy money-for-tooth swap. So far, that’s always been successful. Maybe Santa will prove as gifted as his fairy counterpart.

 

It’s (Finally) Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas

There’s a little winery in way East Texas that I discovered at a wine festival and loved. They are several hours away from my town and so small that they don’t ship. About halfway between here and there is a much larger winery that I also love. This one has a wine club, which I joined. That winery had my distribution ready to pick up.

The small winery is only open noon-7 Thurs through Sat so it’s nearly impossible for me to get to except on Saturdays. So… last Saturday, I planned a road trip. We’d drive to the small one first to get there before they close (youth basketball games prevented an early departure). We’d then pick up my distribution at the larger one on our way back.

The trip was almost cancelled when some accidental injuries and miscommunication caused a major full-family meltdown at departure time. We managed to resolve it in time and my husband and I hit the road.

At home were our three kids plus Jane’s sixteen year old boyfriend. We had several rules: eat dinner, Jane and boyfriend aren’t to be in Jane’s room at all – even with the door open, Jane’s boyfriend has to leave when the boys start getting ready for bed, stay in touch with us. That sort of thing. That was it though. No expectations.

What I came home to blew my mind.

The Christmas tree, which had still been in the attic in its box when we left the house, was fully assembled in a corner of the living room – complete with lights and ornaments. The stockings were hung on the wall. At least three manger scenes were assembled around the house. A Christmas hand towel hung on the oven door handle. Elves hung from all the bedroom doors, and some special little Christmas trees were scattered about. The boxes and tubs for it all had been tucked away in a back room.

I was in awe.

I love my kids. I’ve been so busy and so tired with no free time to prepare for Christmas. I was feeling bad about the delay yet wasn’t looking forward to the hassle of decorating. They did such a beautiful job. Now if I could just get the shopping done and the presents wrapped…

THAT Old?!

We were visiting with some friends when my husband used a phrase I had never heard of.

“Where do you come up with these things?” I asked.

My friend looked up from the game board and said, “That phrase has been around forever.”

“Ok,” I replied, “but I’ve never heard him use it. Sheesh! I’ve been with him for over half my life. You’d think I’d have heard all the phrases he knows by now.”

“You are that old?!” Daryl asked.

“What?”

“You are old enough to have been married to Daddy for half your life?”

“Well, I said ‘been with him’ but we’ve actually been married for over half our lives too.”

“But what about your childhood?!”

“My childhood was a lot shorter than adulthood has been at this point.”

“Besides,” my husband said, “We were 18 when we got married. We were kids.”

Daryl had another hysterically funny-yet-insulting-to-his-mother line after that, but by the time we got home, I had forgotten it. Guess I am getting old.

Dear God…

As we sat down at the table for dinner, my sixth grade son said, “Let’s pray!”

We had just recently resumed our dinner time prayers and I was surprised to hear one of the children suggest it.

“Sounds good,” I said. “Do you want to say it?”

“Sure,” he said – again, to my surprise.

“Dear God,” he began. “Thank you for this set. {giggle} Oops. {pause} I mean, thank you for this day and for this food set before us. I’m glad I had a good day and I hope you will… um… I hope you will make tomorrow good. And thank you for our day and the food and my family and… and… and everything in the world. Except the kids in Africa.”

My eyes opened as I cautiously waited for what would come next.

“I don’t like that at all,” he said.

I looked up at him and noticed my husband was doing the same.

“That’s just not a good situation there,” he said, and then catching our incredulous stares, he finished. “And, um, amen.”