• 73°

All I want for Christmas is…

Surprises.  That is what I always put at the top of my list as a child.  I wanted everything to be a surprise, though perhaps there were plenty of things I secretly wanted. 

The typical Christmas gathering in my family included my parents, siblings, grandparents, and occasionally my uncle.   My aunt and her family lived on the West Coasts and our visits typically occurred in the summer. 

My grandmother would insist that everyone had a pen and pad before we started.   You had to write down every gift and who it came from because she expected you to write a thank you note.  Every person gave every other person a gift.  We unwrapped them one at a time, holding the gift up for a proper inspection by the crowd.  Each year my brother, sister and I would hold up the sweaters we each received from my Aunt Cat.  The packages were always from Nordstrom’s which we had never heard of at the time.

Mary Lou and I were the first to get married and have children, and the extended family began to grow.   The nieces and nephews started coming regularly and before long the crowd had more than doubled.  Nevertheless, everyone gave everyone else a gift.By the turn of the century, our Christmas gift opening had stretched to 4 hours.  There were scheduled bathroom breaks. Plenty of snacks and drinks were present to hold you over as we still opened only one present at a time.

Eventually, the event overwhelmed the occasion.   We reluctantly began to draw names. The compromise was that children still in school each got a gift from the various families.  Everyone could give a gift to my mother which is ironic given that the person who had the least need for additional knickknacks received the most.  The past few years have seen an exponential growth in the family.  There have been several marriages and births.  The family is spread out from upstate New York and Indiana back down to the Deep South.  Just getting together is a major challenge.

This year is bringing a new compromise.  We are all gathering for one day in Atlanta at my sister’s home.  It is closest to my mother, who is the matriarch of the family.  We are not drawing names, but rather are having our first Dirty Santa gift swap.   I can only imagine what my Grandmother Catharine would think about that.

There is not going to be a huge meal since we will only be together for a day.  Instead, we collectively decided to have……PIZZA.   Maybe one of them will have some turkey on it, but otherwise this will be different from every Christmas I have had since I was a child. I must admit that I was proud to watch the next generation plan this get together.  The focus was not on food or presents.  It was about spending time together even if we could only do it for one day.  Four generations from multiple states will gather.  The oldest will be 87.  The youngest will be just a week past his first birthday.  The gift swap will be fun, but not the focus of our gathering.  The kids will love the pizza much more than the multiple casseroles, though my uncle and I are reserving judgment. In this year that Mary Lou and I both turned 65 and have retired, we are adjusting to and embracing our new life.  We may meet in a different place, eat different food, and give different gifts.  We may gather on a different day than we have traditionally done in the past. None of that matters.  Collectively our family will celebrate the birth of Christ while we give thanks for our many blessings of the past year.  We will tell old tales and share new experiences.  What more could I ask for?

Merry Christmas to one and all.  May the coming year bring you many blessings and unexpected joy.