Merry Christmas to those who celebrate it! I am enjoying a new idea of Christmas this year. I just taught my seminary class about Hanukkah, why it is such a special time and the miracles God wrought for the people. Now, as I am pondering on my celebrations of Christmas, I am remembering other times.
I have been recalling many Christmas's past and family traditions that we had - both the sacred and the silly. There is one that is still my favorite. We had a box that is an heirloom. It's a small wooden box that I believe was made by my great-grandfather. It is a lovely box, with decorative Christmas flowers carved and painted on it. Inside the box, while it sits packaged away throughout the year, are two little dolls that are also tree ornaments. One doll represents the spirit of Christmas and the birth of the Christ Child. The other doll represents the coming of the new year and the renewal of life and hope it promises.
Each year, as soon as the tree is up, the dolls go on the tree and the box is placed under it as the first gift. Up to Christmas Eve we all put little pieces of folded up paper into the box. On this paper we write our gifts to the Savior. We do acts of service and kindness to our family members, our friends, our neighbors, and perfect strangers. As we do those things we consciously do it as a gift we give to Him, in celebration of His birthday.
On Christmas morning, the unsigned papers are read aloud and we each hear the joy that was brought into the lives of those around us by giving our gift to the Man who is the reason we are gathered that morning.
I love that tradition. I've heard of others doing things that are similar. I visited a church in New York last Sunday and they encouraged us, in the women's meeting, to do acts of service and e-mail what we did or write it down. They had a box there, which contained the papers. It made me smile and think of my own family tradition.
There is another tradition that started when I was a little older. One of my married siblings was living at home with his family that year. His wife had a family tradition that she has added to our family. Each year, before we go in to the tree and open our presents, we have a birthday cake, with candles and we sing Happy Birthday to the Savior. My mom always cried. Every time. I would snicker and try to keep singing while feeling ridiculous and silly for singing such a common song to someone so sacred and, admittedly, seemed more of a story than an actual person. Now, I always cry too. And somewhere inside of me I'm glad I don't have a disrespectful, unfeeling daughter to laugh at me. I wish I could tell my mom how sorry I am and that I see how much my snickering must have hurt her.
We would sing songs, of course. The month of December was full of singing and concerts and caroling. We would bake goodies and take to all our dear friends and special neighbors. We would do the 12 days of Christmas for a few families each year. There were stockings made by my mother that hung along the wall of the living room. There was the progressive dinner with two other families each year on Christmas Eve. There was the acting out of the Nativity, skits, stories, more Christmas Carols. Our table was filled with all kinds of goodies on Christmas Day. Mom would make cookies, cakes, cinnamon rolls, many different kinds of candies. The plates of goodies we received from friends and neighbors, bags of chips with different kinds of dip, and any other number of junk food could be found on that massive table (which was big enough to seat 13 people around it). It was covered from border to border with food.
But the thing that I loved most about Christmas was my family. I spent more time with them during December than any other time during the year. I loved that. The older kids would come home sometimes and that was special. I used to sneak out of my room in the middle of the night to lay in the hall and listen to mom and the older kids as they talked on the couch in the living room. I couldn't wait until I was old enough to stay up late and talk with them. I never did get to have one of those late-night talks on the couch with my mom.
So, as I ponder all of these things this year, I find myself with a new Christmas desire. This is my first Christmas since my divorce. I've spent many Christmas's in my truck on the road, but my husband was always with me. And this year I've a sister who lives minutes from me. I will be joining her family for Christmas Eve and our favorite traditions.
Yet. Last night as I was readying for bed, I found a sweet feeling of comfort at the idea of celebrating my own Christmas, in my little room with my little wooden painted tree.
There is something sacred and solemn about Christmas for me this year and a part of me feels that there is too much in my heart to be anywhere but by myself in my room with my Savior. I want some one-on-one time, if you will, with Him for His birthday. Or, I want to give Him that one-on-one time.
I think part of it is this last weekend's experience as I celebrated my birthday. I want to share a few things of my heart with you, in the hopes that you will understand the correlation between my birthday and my desires for my Christmas this year.
My sweet sister and brother-in-law gave me a wonderful gift for my birthday. They sent me to New York. Thank you Elaine for knowing I needed to be on a trip rather than in, what felt at the time, a stagnant room of emptiness. It was the perfect gift.
I spent the weekend seeing the city and occasional visits with several different friends. What I loved most about my time there were the one-on-one visits with my different friends. Don't get me wrong, the city was magnificent and I adored the lights I found at every turn. It was much more lovely than any movie or picture could display.
Sitting with my friend as she and I shared a short moment here and there was so lovely. She took special care to make every meal the one I wanted most that day. She gave of her heart to me and shared with me her desire to have me be a part of her most open, emotionally vulnerable time in life. What a gift. Thank you Tiff.
Dear Sarai called me, as I was wandering the streets of New York alone on the night of my birthday. It was almost as if she were with me as we talked and wandered Columbus Circle, enjoying the lights, the music, and an AMAZING hot chocolate from Grom. Thanks for knowing me well enough to know that I needed your phone call that night and not just a text wishing me a happy birthday. Sarai, "thanks for knowin'". ;)
The next day, walking with Michelle, through the city was so very lovely. It was as though her heart spoke directly to mine and I found myself feeling like I belonged somewhere, not just because I wanted to belong there, but because I was wanted as well. She and I share such a unison voice in so many areas, we found ourselves just echoing each other throughout the evening. It was surreal to me to think that someone could agree with my heart on so many levels and so completely. She must be an Aspie. ;) (Yes, that was a joke. See? I can learn.) Thank you dear Michelle for the gift of your time and your heart and the lovely hand-written card. They are all precious gifts to me.
My dear Sherri sent me 5 hand-written cards, all arriving on different days. When I returned from New York, there was a package waiting for me. It had some good things in it that were perfect because, not only were they things I really love, but they are also inside jokes. I found myself laughing and crying at the same time as I hugged the hugging reindeer she sent with the potatoes and the chocolates. :) Sherri, I see finally, after nearly 15 years, you get me. It was a wonderful moment of realization and I called her and shared it with her. Thank you Sherri, for working so hard to understand me and for knowing the things that mean most to me.
And of course, my dearest Cecily. Who, everyday, helps me know more and more what real friendship is about. She has blessed me with a lovely gift that has been most useful, one that she gave to me but longed for herself. What a selfless friend. But, the gift she's given me that I cherish is her friendship. I am a much different, much better person for having known her. Cecily, thank you for making time in your life and allowing me to be a part of it. This is a priceless treasure.
My birthday gifts from my sister and my closest friends taught me so many things. This is the first birthday I have celebrated in many, many years. And it is the first time in my life that I spent my birthday doing exactly as I wished, for the whole day.
I find myself comparing my birthday celebration this year with the way I celebrate my dearest friend's birthday each year. His birthday had never been much of a celebration in my heart...at least not towards Him. Does that make sense? I have always adored Christmastime and the love of the season. But I've never felt anything special about it being the day we celebrate the birth of our Savior. Mostly because, until this last week, my own birthday meant very little to me. It was not something that was ever special to me before. It was always a throw-together gift from my mom who forgot, in the rush of last minute Christmas preparations, that is was my birthday. So I guess I learned through the years that my birthday wasn't really that important or special. Which then translated into I wasn't special and birthdays, in general, were not special. But this year, with my birthday meaning so much to me for the first time in my life, I find my heart yearning to make His birthday as special for Him as mine was for me.
I find I want to share with Him my heart. I want to sit with Him and listen to His heart. I want to give Him my time and share it with just Him. I want Him to see that I now know how it feels to be special to people and to have people be special to me. I want Him to know that He has made it all possible, that He has taught me and changed me and healed me and given me light. I want to give to Him the miraculous days and nights of light, burning without enough oil - yet still burning and giving light. I want Him to feel the adoration and love I have for all that He is. I want Him to feel as special to me as Elaine, Sherri, Tiff, Sarai, Michelle, and Cecily made me feel to them this last week as each of them gave of themselves to me.
I want to give me. Forever.