Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Holly Jolly

The boys were off school the week before Christmas and they were grumpy and out of sorts, so I was glad to send them to their grandma and grandpa's for a few nights. I took advantage of the alone time to do the kind of cleaning I never seem to get too, like sweeping the cobwebs from the ceiling and dusting the bookshelves. The craggy wood-paneled walls downstairs clung stubbornly to their webs, so I had to vacuum them with a brush. We make our overnight guests sleep down there, so I wanted it to be more "cozy family room" and less "haunted mansion."

I also wrapped all the gifts. This never happens. I would have felt virtuous but for the way I went about it. I stayed up late watching TV and "wrapping," and because I like to watch Masterpiece Mystery I couldn't really understand what the actors were saying while I was wrapping, so the whole thing took at least five times as long as it would have otherwise. So I went into the holidays with the wrapping done but sleep deprived, which turned around and bit me later. I deserved it.

We got the boys back all strung out from their time at the tree farm, but it was worth it. My mom came from Bend on Friday and provided much-welcome company, and then Shaun came home from work for an entire glorious week. My sister Hillary flew in from LA on the morning of Christmas Eve, and she spent the whole week with us too!

Shaun cut some branches from the holly tree in our back yard and decked the halls (by which I mean our tables) with it. It looked ridiculously fake, it was so perfect. And it looked fresh as the day it was cut for almost two weeks. Fa la la la la la la la la!

Look how peaceful, everyone paired up and relaxing after our Christmas Eve soup. They are waiting patiently for...

Spanish Cream, the traditional Christmas Eve dessert of Shaun's family, which I made this year for the first time. It was a small concession to the fact that I was not willing to open presents on Christmas Eve, another of Shaun's family traditions.

I don't remember ever believing in Santa as a kid, but that didn't make it any less thrilling to wake up on Christmas morning to bulging stockings and a giant pile of presents under the tree. Hillary and I realized this year that the enormity of that childhood pile had much to do with the number of kids in our family.

On Christmas morning we let the boys open their stockings and then we all went to church. I was a little surprised that our pastor spent a moment on some passionate (for him) anti-Santa remarks. I guess it's bad if your kids believe in Santa instead of Jesus, but I am one of those people for whom stories and myths point the way to Truth rather than obscure or replace it.

But we're all different. I didn't insist upon Santa for Nels because by the time he had heard of Santa Claus, he was already a very deep thinker and actively engaged in formulating his world view. If I had said Santa was real he would have extrapolated the existence of other magical beings from there and I would have had a dickens of a time explaining why he needn't worry about mischievous leprechauns (he was concerned enough about them enough as it was.)

Willem, on the other hand, would have done just fine with Santa, but I didn't have the mental energy to instill the belief after we'd declined to do so for Nels. Therefore he spent the week before winter break scowling and grousing about all his classmates who do believe. It was the Grinchiest thing I've ever seen. I think deep down he was a little sad about not being among the Santa-believers.

Our Christmas morning church service featured a little pageant, with the kids reenacting the story as a narrator read it from the Bible. Here's a photo I took at rehearsal that ended up being the cover of the bulletin.

And here's the real deal on Sunday morning. These shepherds really took to heart the adage that "there are no small parts, only small actors."

Willem was a shepherd and Nels a wise man. I think the whole thing was designed to make everyone feel a warm Christmas glow, but it just didn't do it for me. We go to a non-denominational church and one could never find a truer-hearted bunch, but it is a constant struggle for me to appreciate the lack of any tradition or formality in the worship service. Some people grow up in liturgical churches and rebel against what they perceive as empty rituals. I, on the other hand, pine for the sense of reverence that the liturgy and music of the Presbyterian church I grew up in imbued each service with, especially at the holidays.

I think the moment that best embodied Christmas for me this year came at the "pageant" rehearsal. The mother of the main characters had forgotten about the rehearsal, so her kids showed up late and unnoticed by Willem. We ran through the whole thing for a second time, and when Willem got to the manger, he looked at Mary and saw her holding her own infant brother. His jaw dropped, just like a cartoon, and he pointed.

"That's crazy! That's a real baby!"

And I thought what better thing to do at Christmas, or any time, than to marvel and gape and point to the baby Jesus?

Well , now I've gone on. More Christmas in the next post.

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