I absolutely love the holidays. Despite the hectic schedule, the overwhelming shopping to-do list, and the crowded stores, I still look forward to this special time of the year. I owe my love of all-things-Christmas to my mom. She took extra time and care to make sure the holidays were a special time for my five siblings and me. Mom would start right after the Thanksgiving festivities ended, and the transformation of our somewhat shabby 1909 Victorian house would begin in earnest.
First, my older brother and I would be sent out on a quest for the perfect tree. Our old Victorian had very tall ceilings, so Mom insisted we find a tree at least 12 feet tall. So off my brother and I would go, to our favorite place in the woods a few miles from our home. Looking back, I think we must have been tromping around on some one's private property, (and chopping down their trees), but I was just a kid at the time, and so I always told myself my brother had probably asked permission first...at least I hoped he had!
One year we had an early and heavy snowfall which left nearly four feet of snow on the ground, and the hike through the woods was especially difficult. Finally, frozen to the bone and exhausted, we found the perfect tree! My brother chopped it down and we hauled it through the snow back to my brother's truck, which was no small feat. A 12 foot tree is heavy! We were so excited to show it to Mom. We set it up in the tree stand, expecting a gasp of joy from Mom, but the look on her face said it all. It just wasn't quite right. We turned it, trimmed the branches, put the bare spot in the back, but to no avail. We had learned all too well early on in our job as official "Christmas Tree Hunters", Mom had a penchant for being a bit picky about her tree. So, off we went, back out in the cold and snow to find another one. We finally did find the perfect tree, Mom was thrilled and soon the decorating began!
The decorating always started with Mom bringing out her Santa collection and her antique ornaments from their secret hiding place. I looked forward each year to the same, familiar ornaments being unwrapped. It was comforting to me to unwrap each one of those precious symbols of my family's shared Christmas past. As I unwrapped and hung up each one, I would call to mom, "Oh Momma, here's your favorite Santa!" or, "Here's the one I made for you in second grade!" Each one had a story, a warm feeling, a good memory attached. As I carefully unwrapped each one I'd think, "..some good things never change."
Our family traditions were like a life preserver for me during confusing and chaotic times throughout my childhood.. After twenty years in a difficult marriage, my mother finally divorced my father, who was an abusive alcoholic. Then about a year later, remarried a sweet and gentle bachelor, who loved her so much he was willing to take on a ready-made family with six children ranging in ages from 2 to 19. Despite his love, looking back, I realize it must have been incredibly difficult at times for my mother. She was in her 40's, a working mother of six, divorced, remarried and drained emotionally from all she had been through. But yet, she wanted us to have wonderful memories of Christmas. She probably didn't feel much like celebrating at times, but she never let on. She just smiled, portrayed a happy attitude and tried to give us the best Christmas she could. Despite being a "working mom" outside the home, she decorated our house, hosted and cooked the Christmas dinner for all of our extended family and more than a few friends, (sometimes up to 30 people in all) and gave us six kids as many of the gifts on our wish list as she could. It was only later as an adult, I found out my mother didn't really like to cook, money was terribly tight and she was exhausted most of the time during those years. But, my mother sacrificed to create Christmas magic for us. She transformed our "broken home" into a warm and beautiful place. It was happy. It was filled with joy. It was filled with laughter. It was filled with love. It was, in a word..... magical.
As I grew older, learned Santa wasn't real, and the wonder of childhood was replaced with the wisdom of age, the magic dimmed a little, but it never completely faded. When I'd return home from college and see those familiar decorations and unwrap those special ornaments, I would once again feel the the magic envelope me. My love of Christmas and so much more, I owe to my mom. She taught me the value of creating memories for my children. She showed me the real magic of Christmas is in giving, not in receiving. Because of her, I know no matter what our family may be going through, I want my children to share the laughter, feel the love, and experience the magic of Christmas. I want them to know in their hearts, some good things never change.