I still remember the Christmas Eves of my youth. I am the youngest of four “children.” My sister, Janet, is twenty years older than I, Larry is seventeen years older, and Jeff is nearly four years older. Larry married when I was a baby, so I was an uncle at the ripe-old age of three! Because of his young family, they had to “share” the holidays with two families. So, we would have our family Christmas on Christmas Eve, and they would spend Christmas day with his in-laws. Personally, I loved the fact that I would get my presents the night before many of my friends would get theirs.
As we grew older, Jeff married, and the tradition of having our “family Christmas” on Christmas Eve continued. Then Deanna and I married and was blessed with a family of our own. Suddenly we knew the experience of trying to be everywhere we needed to be at the right time. I can still see dad watching through the window for everyone to arrive. And when the last of us had pulled up to the curb outside, he would announce, “Theda (that was my mom’s name), the kids are all here!”
To be honest, I found the whole experience somewhat draining. Living an hour north of my parents, and another hour from Deanna’s family caused a lot of driving and rushing that I just found stressful. In hindsight, I missed the point. I was so focused on the travel, that I missed the blessing of the visits. I dreaded packing all the gifts and luggage into the trunk of a car that seemed too small for all it had to hold.
And, looking back, the trunk of that car was really analogous of my heart – it was also too small. I had become so focused on meeting the schedule, and pleasing everybody, that I failed to experience the fullness of being with family and friends. Christmas had become a checklist of things I had to do, instead of something I was to experience.
Our holiday has gotten easier to manage: we live just a mile from Deanna’s parents. On Christmas morning we have time to give and receive gifts with our girls. Eventually we start getting ready to go to have Christmas dinner with Deanna’s parents, her sister and her family. But there is something missing; an emptiness. You see, mom and dad have been sharing their Christmases in heaven for what seems like forever. It has been a few years since the last time my family – my sister and brothers, and their families – got together for Christmas. And the void doesn’t get smaller as I get older.
And in my heart, I regret the grinch-like grumbling of years gone by. I would love to be able to know what it is again to have to pack all the gifts and luggage into a trunk that is too small, and drive an hour or so to spend just one evening with mom and dad. To be able to gather in that living room, with sounds of the fireplace crackling and laughter, and spend time with family.
But time marches on. It won’t be long before our girls will know what it is to experience this same holiday routine. And, no matter how much I would like to go back, there is no “Spirit of Christmas Past,” who can facilitate the journey. Yet I know in my heart, that one day our family will gather together again. Mom and dad are already there, and I prayerfully look forward to hearing dad say, “Theda, the kids are all here!”
UPDATE (December 6, 2016): Lacey, our eldest, married Randy Ratcliff, October 25, 2014. They are expecting our first grandchild (it’s a boy!), April 6, 2017! So, they have already begun the dashing about to be with all of their family for Christmas. I pray that they always experience the fullness of being with family and friends. (And I also look forward to the blessing of spoiling grand babies!)
(This post was originally posted on December 17, 2009)