Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas Magic
BY: Irene Morse
Each day of our lives we make deposits in the memory banks of our children.
~Charles R. Swindoll, The Strong Family
"I've been to that hotel, Grandma."
My seven-year-old grandson, Brandon, and I are driving to my mother's house to celebrate Thanksgiving when he spots a Radisson Hotel out the car window. Realizing that all Radissons look the same, my curiosity is nevertheless piqued and I ask, "Really? When did you go there?"
"You know," he replies. "You and Grandpa took me and Maddie there for ice cream after the music without words."
I'm silent for a moment, mulling over "music without words."
Ah, the symphony, I think, and glance at him in amazement. My husband Gary and I had taken two of our grandchildren to the symphony and then to the Radisson for their famous profiteroles -- two years ago. Brandon is remembering an enjoyable but hardly monumental afternoon that happened when he was only five years old. I realize this is important; a small child's pleasant memory from what to him would be the distant past deserves attention and, although I still don't know exactly how, I know that this conversation will forever change the way our family celebrates Christmas.
My husband and I have a beautiful cornucopia of children, their spouses, and grandchildren. Our kids were essentially grown by the time we married so we bypassed many of the problems typical of "blending a family." The issue of holidays, however, has always required creative planning. It has grown more complex as the children married and new family members and traditions were introduced into their lives.
We've tried traditional Christmases. I would bake and cook for days in order to prepare a typical American feast -- but when to enjoy this family meal eluded us. We've tried feasting on Christmas evening, then Christmas afternoon and then Christmas Eve. One year we tried Christmas brunch, but there always seemed to be a scheduling conflict with an in-law family. Our children would come to a table that was resplendent with turkeys, hams, platters of side dishes and scrumptious desserts, nibble a bit and be on their way to the next family home and the next feast.
I worried that, in a world where one in seven people go to bed hungry, it is wickedly wasteful to prepare such a feast when it can't be fully enjoyed. We longed for the company of our children for more than a couple of hours as we celebrated the season of family togetherness.
Grandchildren began to arrive, one-by-one until they numbered thirteen, and the issue of gifts took on an onerous dimension.
Then came the conversation with a little boy who remembered a fun afternoon spent with his grandparents and a cousin two years before.
Although the details were still fuzzy, we began to plan a special kind of Christmas. First, Gary and I agreed to stop giving them "things." Instead, we undertook to find a way to offer them opportunities to make memories. We needed some uninterrupted time and that meant that, most likely, Christmas would have to fall on a different day and traditions would have to be swept away like used gift wrap.
We decided to rent a cabin at Shaver Lake in central California, where we'd likely find snowy winter weather. The location is fairly convenient for everyone and we are there for a week that includes Christmas Day.
"Christmas is no longer on December 25th," we announced that year. "Whenever any family members can be there with us, that day will be Christmas." The plan was an adjustment for our more traditional children, but our grandchildren immediately embraced the adventure of it.
We never know exactly who will be there, when or for how long. In fact, there are days when we are alone -- we use the time to put our feet up, read by the fire or nap. When someone is there, I cook Christmas dinner. It's not a feast, just a nice dinner featuring the favorite foods of those who are celebrating with us. Dessert is more likely to be someone's favorite treat than traditional holiday fare. The money we used to spend on trucks, Barbies or the latest TV toy now pays the rent and buys food for the week.
We are a large, noisy bunch. We have a "game box" and I love sitting with a cup of coffee, watching our children and grandchildren playing board games, working puzzles or playing Uno with the cards Gary, who is blind, has brailed. Often, groups of skiers head up the mountain to spend the afternoon on the slopes, a graduation from the "Daddy-built" sled runs of years past.
There is a "boot box" with extra snow gear and we take a box full of photo albums crammed with family pictures -- and memories -- of hairstyles and Christmases past.
Someone always brings up a Christmas tree. These days, it is decked out with traditional lights and decorations, but when the grandchildren were little, we provided a "crafts box" full of glitter and glue and they made decorations. Some years, silver stars, glittering angels, cotton snowmen and pipe-cleaner reindeer adorned only the bottom two or three feet of the tree.
One year the tree didn't arrive until late in the week and a tall 1970s orange lamp was pressed into service. When the grandchildren are asked to name their favorite Christmas tree, they always laugh and shout, "The Christmas Lamp." The Christmas Lamp is a silly, happy memory shared by all.
Each year brings a different configuration of family members together to ski, play in the snow, thaw out in front of the fire or take long, icy walks. Generally, everyone is able to be there for at least a couple of days. Relaxed, uninterrupted time together has allowed our children to become as close as biological brothers and sisters. Relationships among the thirteen cousins have formed and reformed as the years pass and each has found a special bond with the others.
Last year, a grown-up Brandon arrived at the cabin with his enchanting new wife. The joy of the season will come full circle this year when they bring their new son to play with his cousin, Maddie's daughter, and to help our ever-expanding family make Christmas memories.