I'll be the first to admit that as a child, I absolutely loved all things Christmas. As soon as the Sears and JC Penney "Wish Books" arrived in the mail, I would begin the careful and deliberate process of narrowing down the possibilities before composing my annual letter to Santa. I had an advent calendar that I looked forward to getting out each year and decorating the tree was oh so much fun. Well, once Mom finally got all the lights on it...that was a process in and of itself because she would start at the trunk of the tree and move outward around each branch. My favorite ornament was (and still is to this day) a ceramic Hallmark angel named KatyBeth and each year she is hung in her place of honor. I listened to the Cabbage Patch Kids Christmas record over and over until Mom and Dad finally had enough of it. Then it was time for The Living Voices and Elvis Christmas albums. I thought that I would absolutely burst if I had to wait just one more day for the festivities. Christmas Eve is almost as big as Christmas in my family. This is because we (Mom's side of the family...aunts, uncles, cousins) spend Christmas Eve at my grandparents', MuMu and PawPaw, house. We have dinner which in the mind of a child is such a waste of time. Finally once all the dishes were cleaned and put up, there was only one more hurdle between me and those presents awaiting under the tree: the reading of Twas The Night Before Christmas. Agh. Absolute torture. My aunt insisted upon reading it every single year as my cousins and I danced with anticipation until finally we heard "and Happy Christmas to all and to all, a good night." Let the games begin! It was inevitable, my grandmother would always give us clothes in which we then had to have a "fashion show". I especially liked the year of the matching sweatsuits... Around 11:15, I would start watching the clock because every child knows that in order for Santa to come, all good girls and boys have to be tucked soundly into bed by midnight. Fortunately, we lived close to Mu and Pop's and I usually made it home and into bed just in the knick of time. Now on the subject of Santa, I was not a fan of the fat man in a red suit. My poor parents have only one picture of me with him when I was about two...and I was screaming in it. Besides, I knew that the Santa at the mall wasn't the real Santa. He was simply one of his helpers, and I preferred to communicate directly with the real deal...hence the annual letter. On Christmas morning, I would wake up long before the sun even thought about rising and drag my parents out of bed to see what toys were waiting for me in the living room. Each Christmas was always "the best one ever" but looking back, the years when I got my "real baby", Cindy, or when I got not one but two Cabbage Patch Kid Clown Kids are especially memorable for some reason. Mu and Pop would always come over to see what I had gotten and then it was time for the mad dashing to begin because we had to travel to Snellville for Christmas lunch with my dad's side of the family. Now Christmas at Nanny and Papa's was just as big (or sometimes bigger) in terms of stuff as Christmas morning at my house. They are the grandparents that kept me in Guess jeans and it was guaranteed that my cousin Atalie and I would always get the coolest and newest toys from them. After we had been excessively spoiled, the day came to an end when my parents and I finally headed back home. And even though I was so tired I couldn't stand myself, I would force myself to stay awake to look at all the lights just one more time before they were put away until the next year.
Christmas as an adult is quite different from the Christmases of my childhood. This year I woke up on Christmas Eve morning at my apartment in Athens. The only signs of Christmas at my home sweet home were the just wrapped the night before presents (that were just purchased the week before) stacked neatly in my dining room, Christmas cards on the bar that I had received from family and friends, and the Christmas Wreath scented Yankee Candle that I had just gotten from a co-worker on Friday. I did experience a twinge of regret over not decorating my apartment when I had to dig into the Christmas boxes to find ribbons and gift tags and saw all of my cute seasonal decorations. I made a mental note to display them next year if for no one's enjoyment but my own. But I digress... I began Christmas Eve by packing for the journey home before meeting a dear friend for breakfast at Panera. Those two hours spent with her were one of the highlights of the holiday for me. Over our bagels and hot chocolate we talked about how the realities/worries of everyday life can make even the most special and magical of days seem a bit tarnished. I think this is actually a fact that I learned pretty early in life. Well, I say "pretty early" because I was 13, and I was blessed with a pretty carefree childhood in comparison to so many others. Stepping back into "Christmas Past" for just a moment... First of all, for those of us who survived thirteen, we can all remember what an unpleasant time in adolescence this can be. This was Christmas of 1992, and I had recently learned that my only-child world was going to be rocked the following June with the arrival of a new brother or sister. So needless to say I was trying to make the most of my "last Christmas" before life as I had always known it vanished forever. This would also be the last Christmas in the only home that I had ever known because this new baby was so special that my parents decided we needed a new house. Ok, in reality we needed more space which was fine considering I was already going to have to share my parents - I sure didn't want to share a bathroom. But all of those woes became immediately insignificant when the phone rang that morning. Even though I don't really talk about it all that much, I can still remember everything so clearly. All three of us were standing in the kitchen, and dad was the one who answered the phone. After just a second he handed the phone to mom and told her that it was my aunt Janie. From the expression on mom's face I knew that something was very wrong. My cousin Kevin had gone to visit my great-grandfather (who was actually more like a grandfather to me) and he found him lying across his bed with a gun next to him. He committed suicide on Christmas Eve. Nothing bad is supposed to happen on Christmas Eve! My first thought was: "now we're going to be one of those families at the funeral home on Christmas". I thought this because each year as we drove from my grandparents' house in Snellville we passed a funeral home and inevitably there were always cars in the parking lot. Even as a little girl I would think how terrible it must be to have to spend one's Christmas there of all places. It just didn't make sense to me that if Christmas is the celebration of Jesus' birthday and if Jesus is God's son and if God is the God of the entire universe and is in charge, then why did He allow people to experience such sadness on the day we should all be at "birthday parties" to honor His son? Couldn't He grant us a reprieve for the love of all things Christmas? Apparently not, because even after my own first-hand experience 15 years ago, I asked a very similar question this year upon learning that a co-worker's father had lost his battle with cancer on Christmas Day. I have such sadness for her because now there will always be this ache and hurt that no one but she really understands and feels associated with Christmas. Learning this news brought me back to the conversation over Christmas Eve breakfast about how life continues to happen even though essentially everything other than hospitals, police and fire stations, and grills at Waffle Houses shuts down in honor of this celebrated day. Even though it probably doesn't sound like it from this post, I think that we were both a little refreshed after meeting that morning. It's always reassuring to know that you're not alone when you feel a particular way about something. We were able to encourage each other with pep talks and share laughs in spite of those realities of every day life! I am so thankful for those laughs. So after breakfast, I headed off to the gym for one last pre-holiday workout considering the only other exercise I would get for the remainder of the week would be to walk from the fridge to the couch and those multiple curls of my left arm as I transported food from the plate to my mouth. While there, I issued a challenge to myself to look for things that made this Christmas special and great and one worth remembering. And you know what?...I did. Sure, the traditional reading of "'Twas the night before Christmas" didn't happen on Christmas Eve nor did MuMu make her Red Velvet cake like she always does, but once again our entire family was able to gather together and spend time with each other. After this year, I've learned that these opportunities aren't guaranteed. We even have one more addition to our family...baby Garrett who is full of joy. Seeing Emma's excitement as she opened her Sleeping Beauty doll and horse and the hug she gave me because she likes it so much is something that I will not soon forget. Staying up until 4:30 in the morning to help mom wrap presents as dad slept in the recliner only to be woken up by the boys after what seemed like only minutes after going to bed. Their excitement and the smiles on their faces (well, I think they were smiles, I couldn't really see through the sleep in my eyes) was well worth the lost hours of beauty sleep though. And even though it shouldn't be about the gifts, it brings me great joy when I am able to give my parents something really nice that they would not buy for themselves because they continue to put the wants and needs of their children ahead of their own. We haven't traveled to Snellville for Christmas in about nine years so I have even grown to love staying home all day long on Christmas. This year I especially loved my Christmas morning nap (all that excitement can really wear a girl out!). I didn't even bother to change out of my pj's all day long because it turns out that a sweatshirt and flannel pants are the perfect attire for laying on the couch and reading all day. How relaxing. Fortunately, I didn't suffer from eye-strain from all the reading (I read Atonement on Christmas day so when I say I read all day, I mean it) either because we had visitors in the afternoon and early evening when family dropped in to see what Santa had brought to the Page household. All-in-all, I would say that my Christmas this year was about as perfect as it could be. The only things lacking were pizza for dinner (of course I would get an insatiable craving for Domino's when I can't have it) and Prince Charming and his white horse under the tree. But mom is right...they are dirty and require so much work that I just don't have time for right now. So next year I'm just asking for the white horse. Ha! As usual, somewhere along the way I became so engrossed in checking names off my list and rushing here and there that it wasn't until I went to bed on Christmas night that I dug my Bible out of the bottom of my suitcase and turned to Luke 2 to read the story that is so familiar. And because the star of the story loves me more than my mind can ever comprehend and my sinful little self can ever deserve, this quiet time at the end of a good day was one more thing that made my Christmas special and great and worth remembering.
I do not know what is in store for Christmas Future. I have ideas of how I would like for it to be, but I've learned not to make plans regarding things that I cannot control. However I have decided to not be such a Scrooge in the future. After all, I really have no reason to be one. This doesn't mean that I'll start listening to Christmas music in November or anything crazy like that, and I'm sure I'll still roll my eyes when I walk into Target and see the Christmas decorations directly across from the Halloween candy. But that nonsense is worthy of an eyeroll. Of course I'll still do all of my shopping the week before Christmas as some things are hard-wired into my being. Most importantly though, I want to become aware of the good and wonderful things associated with this time of year. The magic of Christmas still exists into adulthood I believe...it just comes in different forms than it did when we were kids.