Lying in front of the Christmas tree early in December, the days stretched on until the day would finally arrive: the day of all days, the one and only very best day of the year—Christmas Day.
Her annual ritual never changed, no matter which house she lived in, or what city and state her family had relocated to. The Christmas tree remained the same. During her brief existence of one whole decade, she had memorized the look, the way it stood full and tall, touching the ceiling… as it rarely changed—her mother’s method seldom deviating from year to year.
Young eyes wide with wonder, she first allowed her gaze to follow the strings of lights, resting of course, on the pink ones. Then she’d find her favorite ornaments:
Old world Saint Nicholases and shiny jewel-tone orbs. Occasionally a few new ones took their places on the branches. Tiny glittering beads dotted the tree skirt, sparkling under twinkle lights. Lastly her eyes rested on the few packages, wrapped and placed beneath the lowest branches. She counted each one, of course.
Every few days another box or two increased the cache of presents under the tree. And her counting would begin all over again. As much as she ached to know what was inside, she never dared open the gifts, with her name written on the tags, until it was time.
Winter days shortened and night descended early, darkening the living room. But she was content to lie in the dark, with only the lights of the tree to see by.
Tiny paper windows were opened once a day on her European advent calendar. A mere twenty-five days from December 1st, until all miniature pictures behind the flaps were visible. But to her ten-year-old mind, most of a whole month seemed an eternity.
Once school let out for the two-week Christmas break, the waiting was cut by more than half, but those last days lengthened most painfully. Sometimes an entire week stood between her and Christmas! How would she endure the anticipation?
But endure she did. And with each year that passed, as maturity brought understanding, the waiting became easier. She learned to savor the lull before the Big Day arrived—when all her wonderings would be unwrapped and all her family’s Christmas secrets would be revealed. This was the month for celebrating the greatest Gift of all. Not just for one solitary day, but for every day of this glorious month!
Then the day came when Christmas traditions and holiday décor rested with her. Sharing the Preacher’s name and home brought more moves across the states. But each December great care was taken to make her tree as lovely as their newlywed budget allowed. Ornaments and lights were passed from mother to daughter, and year by year she added to the growing collection.
The blessing of children gave her two reasons to start new collections of ornaments… marking each year that passed, remembering each milestone of the seasons of their childhoods.
No more lying on carpeted floor in front of the tree for the busy wife and mom. As holidays approached, baking, cleaning, shopping, preparing, rehearsing and much more filled the hours, in between her usual tasks of family and ministry life. Although, saving an hour on a quiet evening after the family was tucked in, became her private tradition. Something about the lights that always drew her in… angels and bells, snowflakes and stars, candy canes, candles and ribbons, frosted and gleaming, signaling this time of year keenly special to her… representing the most sacred birth of the ages, and stirring up gratitude for the blessings that had come in the almost twelve months prior. Each year, no matter what challenges came their way, she found much to be thankful for.
Now after many Christmases, this year’s holy-day had arrived, and much too soon. When did the days start slipping away so quickly?
Recent weeks brought their son home from military travels overseas, completing her small family. Grandparents joined hands, uniting three generations around the dinner table. In years past shrieks of elation and happy, busy noises of children playing could be heard through the hours after wrappings had been torn and tossed aside. But lately with children mostly grown, as parents and grandparents age, Christmases have grown quieter.
This lull of contentment blanketing shared lives, while enjoying thoughtful gifts, festive treats with days off and rare time together, grows richer now with each passing season. Eventually it is expected that new family members will be added, increasing the blessing of kinship, and expanding the wealth of affection.
When her offspring were young and growing, days flew by as meeting their needs occupied hours and moments on end. In recent years, although needs have changed, her time is still rarely her own. And days, weeks, months and years continue to fly past—sometimes even as her motherly hands reach out, wishing to clutch onto them a little longer, pressing against her chest more tightly, treasuring and engraving them onto her memory…
So it is, when the schedule allows for a lull mid the usual activity, when school days temporarily cease, when ministry demands lessen, when vacation time is spent at home catching up on neglected and needful tasks, there is time for reflection.
And in this contented lull, as another year closes and life brims full of riches held in the heart, she is grateful.
A blessed New Year to each of you!