So Christmas came and went. The real, actual Christmas day was tucked so closely to school letting out that if you blinked, you might have missed it. This meant the last few days before Christmas were so full of rush and prep and last minute Christmas-light-watching, that when Sterling and I carefully placed the final wrapped present under the tree on Christmas Eve, I collapsed in heap of gratitude and exhaustion. (The exhaustion was magnified by a mammoth cold the whole weekend previous.)
Still, it was fun. I did all of our traditional things -- the cookie making, the shopping, the wrapping, the gift delivering, and so on. And even with all of that I couldn't quite feel the Christmas spirit. Once Jordan got home we started listening to Dolly Parton's Hard Candy Christmas incessantly, and that helped a little, but something still seemed out of the ordinary. Was I missing something?
Luckily, there was little time for reflection, so I kept singing carols and wrapping presents and trying to do some good in the world. I even gave blood. I was serious.
As is traditional, we hosted my family for Christmas Eve -- 23 folks for a tamale dinner. Each year I order the tamales from a great little shop close by and then shore it up with queso and pico and guac. This year we added PW's apple dumplings for good measure. Sugar and butter and crescent rolls smothered in Blue Bell are always a good idea. For decor...I wanted something along the lines of magical. Somewhere in the deep recesses of Pinterest I had seen hanging marshmallows and knew, that in our snow-less clime, hanging marshmallows would meet of all of my magical requirements. So, on the morning of Christmas Eve I was stringing and Sterling was constructing tiny marshmallow mobile arms. We hung ten "mobiles," each containing four strands, each strand holding five marshmallows. So that's 200 marshmallows suspeneded in mid-air. I think it looked even cooler on Christmas Eve than in the picture above. The drum light lit the mallows from below, and with the candles lit...it was...well, marshmallowy in a snowy, cool way. A little like stop-action photography. They're still hanging if you want to stop by.
The marshmallow installation took about two hours. Sterling did not complain one little bit, although he became a bit grim face when at one point I handed him a complete mobile in a sweeping motion that caused the four long strands (threaded with actual sewing thread) to swirl and twirl and tangle ALOT. He just quietly (and with his head about to explode) pulled the mobile down and started untangling. By the afternoon he was quite pleased with our marshmallow exhibit. I like to think I'm the vision and he's the execution, but really...he's just a very kind soul.
The girls and I worked steadily all afternoon on our party. Maddie helped me with place cards. I set the tables. Becca made the guac. Jordan made the apple dumplings. Sterling picked up the tamales and then jumped in to help with the dishes before everyone arrived. After dinner Jordan played the piano while Madison and Becca led the little cousins through a nativity play. Parker and Jordan played a duet of the first Noel, with Jordan on the piano and Parker on the cello. After everyone left we all hurried around the kitchen finishing up the dishes so the kids could give each other their gifts.
The next morning we opened gifts at about 8 -- a very civil hour. The kids took turns unwrapping, throwing away the paper and yarn and ribbons after each turn. They were happy and grateful. Sterling and I made breakfast: homemade cinammon rolls (made the night before) with bacon and hashbrowns. Afterwards the kids watched a new movie.
It was all so nice, and in the "niceness" I realized that what had been "missing" was the excitement of surprise, the pure wonder and magic of a child on Christmas who believes. There had been none of the lore of Santa, no leaving out cookies, no discussion of the measurements of his sleigh, no faithful expectation of magic. With the exception of Parker, the girls pretty much knew what they were getting...they had made specific lists. There was no fluttery feeling in my stomach the night before because I just couldn't wait to see their expressions when they ran down the stairs.
But in my realization of what was missing, I could also see what we had gained -- and it was a whopper. The feeling of Christmas had actually become a family affair. Everyone pitched in...which, if you are a mom, you know is HUGE. We made Christmas together. We enjoyed each other. We thought of others. Sweet kids wandered in to the kitchen asking if there was anything they could do. They went out on shopping excursions. They secreted themselves in their rooms with rolls of paper and tape and excitement over giving to others. And, in a way, Santa was more real this year than in all of those previous years of Barbie and American Girl and Hot Wheels. What he stands for...generosity, and good will, and even magic...became a perspective instead of a commodified frenzy. And in this, the dichotomy between Santa and Christ's birth became a little less stark. And I could feel peace and joy...in my kitchen...where everyone had helped load the dishwasher.