Christmas has changed through different stages in our lives, but the reason we celebrate remains the same.
It’s certainly my favorite holiday and a big reason for that is because it’s the one time my entire family gets together. My brother, Nick, and his wife come home, my grandma recently started visiting from Alaska, and we’re together once again. It’s how it should be and suddenly, when we’re all together, everything feels right in the world.
I’ve always loved watching the Rudolph and Charlie Brown Christmas specials, reading Christmas stories (one of my favorites was The Story of Phroomf, complete with Phroomf doll), listening to carols on the radio, and decorating our house.
We always visited the tree farm and picked out a fresh tree. After Dad set it up, it was officially tree day, the day that we decorated. Mom started giving us special ornaments every year for tree day. My ornament collection was dogs. We each hung our own ornaments and then could help hang Mom’s. I was always proud of our tree, of the fresh, sweet scent, the live branches, and the special way we decorated it.
Despite my opposition, my parents recently opted for a fake tree. I sometimes put up a real one in my home. We still have tree decorating day though, open to any who are available. And though the limbs don’t smell as sweet, its beauty remains and the lights still blink.
Santa hasn’t visited in awhile. I imagine he’s busy visiting so many other wonderful homes. He used to leave his footprints in our fireplace, eat his cookies, and leave his packages in a wrapping we had never seen, with handwriting linked to none. As my mom would say, Santa is the spirit of Christmas. I’ve never met the man, but I’m thankful for his good work. I often met his helpers — the Santas that listen to you at the mall.
We continue to exchange gifts, finding joy in giving and receiving. There’s something special about picking out a meaningful gift for someone else. I love seeing the individuality of the wrapped presents beneath the tree and the uniqueness of their contents.
Every year we drive around and look at the lights in our neighborhood. There’s a neighborhood nearby that lines their street with paper lanterns on Christmas Eve. We love driving through the dark stillness after the midnight church service and taking in the beauty and meaning of the carefully placed lanterns.
There used to be a driveable Nativity scene in another neighborhood nearby. It was called the Chicago Street Lights. I suppose at one point it was only on Chicago Street, but by the time I could remember it, it wound all through a neighborhood, telling the story of Jesus. At the end, firefighters collected donations and gave out candy canes. That was always one of my favorite things. The decorations were eventually sold and I’m told they live on in a nearby town, though I haven’t yet ventured out to find them.
Now, we sit around and bake, eat snacks, open gifts, play games, watch Christmas Vacation, and enjoy each other’s company. We usually journey into the city for some fun exploration, but overall, our main goal is just to be together. It’s a week that always goes much too fast and ends with me in a puddle of tears.
I wouldn’t trade Christmas with family for anything. I know that as time goes on, our Christmas traditions will continue to shift, but I hope that our time together never does.
Christmas comes during the coldest, darkest days, but brings a warmth so bright and loving that you can’t help but feel the cheer.
When Christmas surrounds us, we are one and everything feels merrier. —Katie