As I sat at the computer waiting for inspiration to appear, I thought about what Christmas means. Is it shopping? Is it the story of the Christ Child? Is it the presents under the tree on Christmas morning? Christmas Carols?
For each person different things are the true essence of Christmas. For some, if they are not with their families, then it isn't Christmas. For others, certain decorations are the true meaning of Christmas.
As for me, I'm not sure what it is exactly that makes it Christmas. I have spent Christmases surrounded by a vast family and friends. I have spent Christmas alone. There was more than a Christmas or two that was tinged with grief and sadness and others that were filled with joy. Both sides of the coin had their place because our lives are not static. We are constantly moving on, constantly dealing with changes in our lives.
Traditions help us stay grounded as life rushes past but we must not be so buried in tradition that we are lost when the traditions fade away. We must be open to establishing new traditions to take their place. Sometimes a new tradition begins with a whimper. Sometimes with a bang. Some are born of desperation.
One Christmas we were so broke I wasn't sure where we would find the money for the yearly stuffed animal from Santa. My friend called to let me know that a local pharmacy had all their teddy bears on clearance. We drove down to the store, found four different ones and for the princely sum of six dollars, Santa would be making a house call at our place Christmas Eve. They were plain. Stone cold plain, but my friend rummaged through her sewing supplies and located enough fancy ribbon to outfit each bear with a jaunty bow.
And then I had the notion to issue a "gift certificate" to each of the kids. I designed them and printed them out on an old dot matrix printer and colored them with colored pencils. Each one was for a specific sum to be payable when we received our income tax refund. Looking back now, I wonder what my kids really thought about receiving a colored promissory note. But I give them a lot of credit. They acted quite excited about it.
Income tax time finally arrived and we spent hours at the stores spending their gift certificates. The next Christmas rolled around much too soon. Things weren't a whole lot better. With a faint heart I asked them what they wanted for Christmas. Unanimously, they all declared that they wanted the gift certificates again. And so a tradition was born. For many years after that, we had the Cook family gift certificates.
Heh. I was just ahead of the curve as usual. Now we do gift cards. And they're still excited.
In the last five years, we've had more of a turnover in traditions than at any other time in the past. One Christmas we witnessed the birth of a grandchild. Another Christmas Eve I brought my husband home from the hospital after surgery. Most years we've done minimal decorating due to various circumstances.
Three years ago I completed seventeen calligraphy pieces, matted and framed, and mailed them out. They were all 11 X 14 and miracle of miracles they all arrived safely. Two years ago I made memory books for my kids. They were a hodge-podge of pictures, short stories, recipes, and memories. The kids call them The Christmas Book and they hold a place of honor in their homes.
New traditions. Old traditions. They stretch back through the years providing the tapestry of Christmas past and present. Perhaps that is the meaning of Christmas... the wonderful tapestry of memories and traditions that hold us together through the good times and bad.
Some readers will recognize this post from a previous year. That's okay. Some things are worth a second read...