Friday, December 22, 2006

Christmas Reflections

For 51 weeks of the year I try to write what's on my mind. Once a year, the week before Christmas, I write what's in my heart.

This year, I'm afraid to look. My fear is that all that has filled this past year will come tumbling out in a sad, unintelligible torrent with such force that it blurs the lines on the page. Change, it would appear, is the only constant.

Even the traditions that we have stitched together from year to year, like garlands on a Christmas tree, have changed. This year, with the passing of my father, there will be one less person, one less generation, sitting at our Christmas table. As our youngest child moves anxiously into adolescence, the magic that only a young child can bring to Christmas morning is finally gone. The childish letter to Santa has been replaced by a wish list carefully researched on the web and categorized by designer, store, and price range.

For the very first time the family ritual of cutting down a Christmas tree was replaced by shopping for an artificial one. After our real tree dried out far too quickly last year, we promised it would be our last. Practical concerns about fire safety finally won out over my life-long childish passion for a real tree. Gone too, was boisterous trip to our neighbor's Christmas tree farm in a van filled with five people, a large dog and my husband's ancient tree saw. With one son in England and the other in Vancouver, it was just my husband Brian, daughter Sarah and I who made the trek to the store to pick out an artificial tree.

When we got the tree home, I figured that the boxed version would at least be easier to set up than a real tree. I was wrong. "Some assembly required" translated into several hours of sorting different sized pieces and inserting them according to package directions.

I have to admit that once we finally got all the color-coded pieces in the right places, setting up the tree was much easier. Without the boys jockeying to position their favorite ornaments in just the right spot, trimming the tree was infinitely more civilized. As Brian pointed out, if you couldn't find the perfect spot to hang an ornament, you just had to move the artificial branches around until you found one. The tree has been up for three weeks now and we haven't had to vacuum up a single pine needle. I don't think anybody misses the daily ritual crawling under the tree to see if it needs watering, either.

With two six-foot sons out of the house, we were finally able to trade in our family van in for a wonderfully fuel efficient Civic. At 50 miles to the gallon, I can finally drive to the grocery store without expecting Al Gore to jump out at any minute and yell, "Hypocrite" as I pull into the parking lot.

Knee surgery earlier in the fall meant that I couldn't participate in my choir's Christmas concert this year. Instead Brian and I attended Sarah's first concert and were amazed, delighted and deeply moved by the beauty of young voices singing gloriously to God in the highest.

With the boys on opposite sides of the globe, we decided to forego our annual family Christmas photo, and wait instead to have a proper family picture taken at our eldest son's wedding next summer. With any luck, in time we will once again view the magic of Christmas through the eyes of our grandchildren.

Everything changes, grows, evolves. Brian wisely says that if you change one thing, you change everything. Would I trade the heartbreak of my father's death for our sons' brilliant passage into adulthood? Never. Would trade watching our daughter's Christmas concert for the chance to sing in my own? Not a chance.

We are each riders on a journey, each as magnificent as the stars in the sky, and as precious as the light in the eyes of a child. We build our traditions because they comfort us and bring us together, if only for a short while, with our fellow journeymen - those we are blessed to call family.

May the love of family and friends surround you this Christmas and may we all experience, if only for a brief shining moment, the joy of peace on Earth.


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