I rose in the darkness this Christmas Eve morning. After the utter exhaustion of caring for my three little ones for long days this week as they struggle with the crazed anticipation of pre-Christmas, I am thankful that my daughter-in-law is hosting Christmas Dinner tomorrow. For almost forty years, Christmas dinner has been at my home, with numbers ranging from ten to twenty family and friends, and although I cherish the memories of those lovely Christmas gatherings, it is time to pass the torch -
Today my "to-do" list is long, but manageable. I will be wrapping some gifts, putting together a casserole and preparing sausage stuffing, simmering a delicious soup for my daughter to take to work for her 3:00 shift on Christmas Day, and trying to fit in a short nap to re-energize myself for Christmas Eve mass, and a late-night gathering at my nephew's house.
I love Christmas -- the music, the decorations, the warmth and love of this special season. However, as deeply as I have enjoyed Christmas past, I have very few specific memories of gifts given and received. There is one Christmas, however, that stands out from all others. When I was growing up, we were quite poor -- not the poverty of so many today who cannot afford heat and food, but still with much less money than the average suburban family of the 1950's. My father worked twelve hour days and still money was tight. While my parents made sure that Santa always brought us gifts, there was no money left over for my parents to exchange gifts.
My parents had a good marriage, and gifts were not necessary for them to express their love for each other. This love was expressed on a daily basis with kindness, understanding, and comfort as they faced the struggles of life. However, there was one Christmas when my father excitedly drove my sister and me to Montgomery Ward one Saturday afternoon. Montgomery Ward was a large department store near Albany, the shopping hub long before Colonie Center and Crossgates Mall changed the "shopscape" of our area.
I remember that long ago afternoon clearly -- my father had some extra money and he was buying my mother a Christmas gift for the first time in my memory. He knew exactly what he wanted, and we went first to the jewelry counter where he bought her a lovely gold bracelet watch; then it was on to the clothing department, where he picked out a leopard jacket (of course it was fake -- and I don't know if it was in style). Our final destination was the cosmetics counter, with its enticing scents, where he picked out a bottle of my mother's favorite perfume, Tours Ju Moi (sp??). My father never stopped smiling that afternoon, and on Christmas morning, my mother was overcome with joy and appreciation. He placed the beautiful watch on her wrist, and she lovingly caressed the leopard jacket. I was so excited that my mother finally had gifts to open. Today, that well-worn bracelet sits in a little wooden jewelry box in my bedroom. From time to time I open the box and hold it in my hand, feeling the loving spirit in which it was given and worn.
As the Christmases in our lives come and go, we find that some are very special and some are best when they are over. Sometimes the decorations, the food, the gifts, the gatherings and the spirit are perfect, and other years we are left with a vague feeling of disappointment. Sometimes our families are all together and harmonious, and sometimes we are grief-stricken with the loss of one more well-loved face at the table. Christmas is really about the birth of Christ, but to many of us, it also has become about the gathering together of our loved ones. We look forward to the traditions, the gifts, and the love. And, once or twice in every lifetime, there is a Christmas that will touch our hearts so deeply that its memory remains clear -- I still can summon the scent of my mother's perfume, and the huge smile on my father's face as he held the soft leopard jacket in his calloused hands on that long ago Saturday at Montgomery Ward.
May this Christmas bring loving memories to you all --