Friday, December 27, 2013

If You Just Believe

“Are you willing to believe that love is the strongest thing in the world – stronger than hate, stronger than evil, stronger than death – and that the blessed life which began in Bethlehem nineteen hundred years ago is the image and brightness of the Eternal Love? Then you can keep Christmas.” Henry Van Dyke

The Christmas season came and went this year without too much of a peep. The kids and I picked out the biggest tree we could find: Ten feet tall and five feet wide. I prepared the usual pomp and circumstance of the season by decking my house from the inside out with lights and garland, wreaths and sparkling presents. Decorations were dazzling halls, cookies were baked and eaten, stockings hung on the chimney with great cheer, holiday parties happened, and carols were sung all over town.

My children were nestled all snug in their beds with the hopes that St. Nick would soon be near. Here in North Carolina not a single snowflake fell, and many a December day felt more like a warm summer’s eve than a scene from a Norman Rockwell holiday card. Still I’m sure the spirit was alive, I just didn’t feel it as much as usual. I am not really sure why.

Perhaps because Thanksgiving was a week later this year and everything Christmas had to be crammed into a shorter period of time? In an effort to put on the holiday show was there less time to savor and immerse oneself in the season? I noticed more people wishing “Merry Christmas” with pride and exuberance versus the hesitant “Happy uh, um Holidays?” so surely the spirit was alive more than ever.

I remembered the reason of the season and reminded the kids we were celebrating Jesus’s birthday. We went to church and prayed for peace and happiness throughout the land, filled shoe boxes to send to children in need, adopted an angel from a tree, listened to bells toll, and told stories from the past. All signs of good tidings were evident and we came all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant.

My kids counted down the days to see if Santa thought they were naughty or nice. Would he bring them everything their hearts desired? Did they remember to tell him about the Furby, or that giant Nerf gun, or that last minute wish for that special Harry Potter wand? We were all very merry with yuletide trimmings shouting “Noel!”

Every morning my sweet five year old would come barreling into my room and tell me how many more days until Santa arrives. He would hold out his hand and count his fingers with such authority and assertiveness, and then smile with giant excitement in his eyes, giggling like a bowl full of jelly.

My eleven year old, bless his heart, still believes. He tried to talk himself out of the magic a year ago, but I talked him right back into it telling him that he’ll have everything he needs if he just believes.

My darling nine year old daughter was humble with her requests. She really did lose her two front teeth, plucked from her mouth by the dentist. Yet she could still whistle Merry Christmas.

All signs of everything Christmas were in full force, and I know the spirit was too, I just didn’t feel it like I usually do. Then it happened, just when I thought all hope of having my heart brimming with the enchanting aura of the holy time would escape me, I felt it.

Christmas Eve we made our annual hop, skip and jump to my aunt’s home for the traditional carving of the Roast Beast dinner. The table set with fine china and family heirlooms, with place cards thoughtfully arranged, we enjoyed the company of our family and friends. We ended the evening with a reading of “Twas the Night Before Christmas” recited by my younger cousin. The reading was a tribute to my most respected and missed uncle who passed too soon and not that long ago. The moment was bitter sweet.

Christmas morning arrived. I knew long before the kids that Santa had not forgotten our home. She was up until 3:30 am wrapping presents and filling stockings with “The Christmas Story” marathon playing in the background. Nonetheless three innocent pairs of gingery footsteps trounced into my room to wake me, anxious to see if Santa came.

Just as they were about to race down the stairs I halted them, “Stop, let me check to see if he came!” but it was too late, their excitement could no longer be contained. In a peaceful truce with a cordial friendship in the works, their dad appeared shortly thereafter to share in the festive frenzy.

In a sea of paper and presents, the room was covered from tree to chimney. Not a single regret or complaint of disappointment was uttered, and smiles and happiness exploded amidst the mass of mess. All five of us, mom, dad, and three children, sat down to a lovely breakfast served in the dining room with Christmas carols enhancing the scene. We shared some laughs and stories, recounted our packages and showed thanks. But that was not when I was struck with the spirit.

My three children gathered their belongings and were off for the next week to spend some quality time with their dad. I spent the day in a quiet, reminiscent silence. Though I was not alone and my euphoric state had me flying.

Later that evening I was invited to the home of my dear neighbors and friends Dave and Debbie for Christmas dinner. Joined by their daughter Kristen, and Dave’s mom visiting from Ohio, we enjoyed a most delicious feast of a special secret family recipe called Shrimp Mangino, served with roasted brussel sprouts and Caesar’s salad. Dave, the ultimate wine connoisseur, selected the most delectable wine to pair with the meal.

Two years prior I had the honor of joining them on this very sacred night. We sat at the same table and enjoyed the same meal with the same company. Dave’s mom remembered our meeting and both of us were happy to be reunited. She is a pip of a hoot and a lady with a pep in her step and a sass in her humor. She said to me, “The last time I saw you, you looked older. You look younger now.”

Two years ago I spent my first Christmas dinner without my family. Although that seemed like eons ago, I recall the time not being one of my happier days. I may have had a smile on my face, but my sadness hung heavy and she remembered. She could tell that evening how sincerely time had healed me and I confided a little secret to her. She was beaming.

Amazing how much time truly heals. I spent a wonderful evening with my best friends and though my children were not with me, I was living in the moment, not dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. We gathered around the piano and their daughter Kristen played a most gorgeous Christmas ensemble that brought tears to my eyes. I asked her to play it again and she did. Then Debbie and Kristen sang a Silent Night duet. That was the moment. Music, the gift from heaven, the voice of God, brought the magic and spirit of the season to my heart. What a beautiful life.

Christmas came and went this year without a peep. I neglected to get out my Christmas cards, there were people I wished I had showed my thoughts with actions, I didn’t bake nearly the cookies I wanted to bake, didn’t spend nearly the time I wanted to spend with my children. Our gingerbread houses collapsed and we never made it to our traditional showing of the Nutcracker. I confess, we never filled those shoeboxes. Somehow our annual viewing of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and “It’s a Wonderful Life” escaped us, while our traditional readings of such sentimental works as The Polar Express or Santa Mouse sat on the shelf too often.

As for that Elf on the Shelf, screw him, he’s creepy and was never invited to our house anyway. I ran out of steam when decorating, so much that the last few strings of lights I just threw on a bush and called it a day. My gorgeous tree hatched a rather large family of spiders that brought new babies on the twelve days of Christmas. I didn’t walk around stores with that effervescent spirit of good will towards men. I spent more money than my budget allowed.

But on the final hour of this season, the spirit rained down upon me. And the day after all is calm, all is quiet. And I’m in love. Everything I asked for and more is under my tree. I can’t wait for next Christmas season.

Merry Christmas!!


  1. Ah, you made the Christmas magic learned well Grasshopper!

    Tell Mr. 11 that Santa is real, I trained with him as a Navy Seal.
    Merry Christmas, A great year is around the corner.

    1. Ah yes, I will remind the young lad. I had forgotten about your Navy Seal days. How did the polar bear's liver taste?

  2. Very nice post filled with many of the emotions of the season. At least your story had a happy ending. Take care.

  3. You are a woman of great strength and perseverance; not that most of us aren't. It's just that yours are in areas that require meticulosity ( says that's a word) and deep feelings for tradition.

    Congratulations for getting through Christmas. The Blessed Holiday can be downright challenging!

    Your story was heartfelt to read, as usual. I'm happy to know that your Christmas Spirit is back and that you look forward to next year. Only 11 more months!

  4. Hey .... no posts for a long time ......
    (your Dad told me to come over here)

  5. Sounds like many transitions for you. I am glad that you are at peace, and I hope the spring and summer are bringing happiness to you.