My brother Paul used to take my niece Leigh's blanky when she was a baby, and periodically, he would wrap it up and hand it to her as a present. Not once did she unwrap that gift and have anything less than the fullest smile of sweet surprise across her face. It never got old, and her happiness over the gift seemed endless. Consequently, we all enjoyed watching her open it up, as much as she enjoyed opening it.
Catholics have the joy of celebrating Christmas over and over again for the eight day octave. Every morning we wake up and do it all over again. Maybe not with the packages each time, but the day is approached as hallowed, and as such we eat, and drink, and make merry with abandon, while work, school, and stress, have to take a back seat.
I grew up in a huge family, where Christmas vacation was marked by lots of Christmas music and intense bouts of board game playing, interrupted only by lunch and dinner breaks that consisted mostly of chocolate. Breakfast never occurred during Christmas week, as we all stayed up too late playing games to call anything breakfast ( not matter how breakfasty the foods were) by the time the next days rounds had begun.
When we married, Fred and I hoped and wanted to have a big family, (or at least were open to it), and so early on, we decided we would keep Christmas at home. Always living a few states away from family meant that Christmas visits would come during the octave. And so they have. Each and every year some different and some of the same members of our family arrive to join in celebrating with the kids. I don't think there has ever been a Christmas of my life that I haven't celebrated with Jacquie, and Paul is a close second. The last few years Celine has been a regular in the Christmas game wars. She arrives later today with Uncle Bud and I told her to bring her A game now that I am all warmed up from the twins marathon-game-playing visit.
I cannot begin to tell you the joy it brings to my own kids, and now to my siblings, nieces and nephews, as we share these times and repeat the pattern, from year to year. And the best part is, as we move each year in the future with our own kids, we are all allowed those few precious days to go back. Back again to our own childhood. Back to those memories and familiar feelings that remind us of all the more simple, and beautiful parts of life.
My god-daughter Maria wrote me an email on Christmas night, and I could practically hear her excited giggling through it, as she told me she could not wait to come to my house and spend a few days with her cousins. It was one of the most precious gifts I received this year.
To me Christmas isn't just a day, but a place, a way of being. It is the profound realization that "God so loved the world so, He gave His only begotten Son" of course, and P.S. there is only one way to compete with a gift like that.
It is to give the gift of ourselves as well. To give our time, and our happiness, and our lives to one another. And the wrapping is just as unlikely a package as a babe in a manger. But how fun is it, year after year, to give the same gift to one another, and still have the opening met with perfect joy and surprise! To play the same games, and sing the same songs, and bake the same foods, and have each time still be a first. To see the same thing once more, and have it be ever ancient, ever new. To unwrap the blanky over and over again. And to have the wonder of a childhood return to our own hearts.
Family is the gift we keep on giving to one another.