Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus

I have always loved Christmas. As a child, it involved trimming the tree and decorating the house, inside and out after December 9*, visits from my grandparents who lived down the ocean, baking cookies with Mom-Mom and buying Christmas dresses with Pop. We'd go to midnight mass and come home to read 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, open one present - new pajamas and hang our stockings. We'd sleep upstairs in the attic, all three sisters huddled together on one bed, chatting until we'd finally fall asleep.

We'd call down to my parents on Christmas morning and my father always called back, "Not sure why you'd want to come down here. Doesn't look like Santa left anything." This was the stall technique my parents used to be able to turn on the Christmas lights and pour themselves a cup of coffee.

We tromp down the stairs excitedly only to be stopped by my Mom for a picture. We'd take down our stockings and empty them on the floor to find pencils and crayons, manicure kits, nuts, chocolates and an orange. The same stocking hung each year even after we were married and had children of our own.

Then my father would go down to the basement and exclaim loudly, "I don't know. Santa must have skipped our house. You can come and check." and again we would bound down the stairs, stop for a picture and scurry to the tree. Gifts would be tagged and signed by Santa or Mom and Dad or maybe even Father Time (he had given us watches one year). And then there would always be a surprise gift for one of us - a skateboard for my younger sister that Dad rode out from the workshop or a stereo for me that had been playing Christmas music while we opened gifts that I only realized was there when my Dad asked me to turn the music up a bit.

Then we would play with our gifts while in our pajamas and my Mom would make breakfast for us. We would bake a cake for Jesus' birthday and sing "Happy Birthday" with our faces pointed toward the sky.

We would eventually get dressed and ready for company while Christmas dinner cooked. Aunts and uncles, cousins and grandparents would visit throughout the day and we would stay at home. We never went anywhere on Christmas Day. My parents decided once they had children to stay home and invite others to come and visit and so they did.

I have such fond memories of Christmas.

And it didn't end Christmas Day. We'd go to my great aunt and uncle's house the Saturday after Christmas for a party and there was always food and family and presents. And then someone, normally us, would host a New Year's Eve party and we'd have sparkling cider and stay up past midnight.

Such cherished memories.

When Rick and I got married we joined two families and two sets of traditions. Of course, at first all of my traditions made sense and some of his seemed out of place. We talked about which ones were most important to us and decided to start them with our new family.

The tree is topped with a star and presents are wrapped and placed under the tree, with Santa leaving his requested present, unwrapped by the fireplace on Christmas Eve. We go to our church's candlelight service ** and open a gift - pajamas - before we read 'Twas the Night Before Christmas.

On Christmas morning, we read Luke 2 before emptying the stockings and opening presents. We bake a cake for Jesus and stay in our pajamas at home all day*** We drink hot chocolate with whipped cream and just enjoyed the fact that the world seems to slow down on the day God sent His Son as a baby in a manger.

We also hang an Adorenament on a special tree for the twelve days before Christmas. Each ornament highlights one of the names of Jesus and reminds us to keep our focus on Him. We also started to do an Advent Countdown last year. Each day an activity was revealed and shared, again keeping the focus on family and others during the season. And we have an Elf on the Shelf that does daily antics, keeping an eye on the kiddos and reporting back to Santa.

But, this year I have had a hard time with school and some other things that have affected our family keeping up with the countdown and the Adorenaments and I hate it. I hate that some of the traditions we hold dear are getting pushed aside because of the natural busyness of the season and my own lackadaisical attitude right now.

I am hoping to rectify the situation this weekend by baking some cookies with the kiddos, planning our annual Christmas Brunch menu and watching a few Christmas movies. And we will hang the Adorenaments and pick a few activities from the countdown.

I think I have tried to pack the weeks before Christmas with this that will distract us from some of the daily heartaches and mundane things, but in doing so I fall short in doing what is important. I get overwhelmed by others' pictures and statuses that I just give up on what we are comfortable doing, worrying that our traditions aren't sparkly or exciting enough.

What I want to do is focus on Jesus and His Coming, giving to others - our time and our talents and slowly down a lot as to not miss what is most important at this time of year.    

*My sister's birthday is December 9 and my parents never wanted her to feel like her birthday was not important, so we would not decorate until after her birthday. Santa actually set up the basement tree on Christmas Eve

**Since moving back to MD we host an annual Christmas Eve Brunch each year. It has been a tradition of my parents' that we are continuing. It is a great time for me to see my grandkiddos and my aunt and cousins I do not get to see much throughout the year.

***When we lived in TX we would go to my sister in law's for Christmas Eve dinner and then to their church's candlelight service. Then on Christmas Day after we opened gifts at home we'd head to my inlaws' house for a brunch buffet and gift giving. We also hosted a Christmas Open House one year.  

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