The first Christmas living alone in my own apartment, I purchased and decorated a tree the weekend right after Thanksgiving. I remember the glimmer of the colorful lights as I cozied up on the couch afterward, sipping a cup of hot tea while admiring my handiwork. I even left the lights of the tree on at night because I liked the magical glow radiating throughout the apartment.
I’ve always loved Christmas lights. As a child, my dad took my siblings and me for a walk down Jackson Street in Philadelphia, where the neighbors on several blocks decorated their homes and lawns in extravagant light displays. I was mesmerized. I also remember pressing my nose up against the cold glass window of our family van for glimpses of all the brightly lit homes as our dad drove us to church. My youngest brother would yell out in excitement, “ights! Ights!” We thought he was the cutest.
Perhaps I love the lights because they make things seem “merry and bright.” Or, perhaps it brings to mind all the memories of Christmases past and time spent with my family. As a child, we didn’t have a Christmas tree, but my mother decorated with greens and holly. I remember the excitement of Christmas Eve when my aunts, uncles, and cousins descended on our house for gifts, laughter, and a ton of food. Sometimes carolers from our church would come by and sing to us. After the Christmas Eve service, it was a tradition for us to eat a late night meal of hoagies and have cookies for dessert. Christmas was the only time of year my mom made chocolate doggie cookies. As the name suggests, they were chocolate cookies in the shape of a Yorkshire terrier. To this day, I’m not quite sure why we had cookies shaped like dogs considering we never even owned a dog.
My mom would bake batches of cookies in the weeks leading up to Christmas and place them in Tupperware containers with a slice of bread to keep them fresh. She ‘hid’ them behind the rocking chair in her bedroom to make sure they lasted until Christmas. We all snuck some when we had the chance.
Christmas Eve was loud and boisterous, joyful and fun.
On Christmas morning, it was more intimate with just us siblings. (Well, as ‘intimate’ as it could be for 16 of us). After opening presents, we read our new books, played our new games, and listened to our favorite Christmas albums. Dad napped in his recliner and mom read in her chair as the scent of our roast beef dinner wafted throughout the house.
While the memories are happy, they also bring about an ache of sadness in my chest. We grew up, married, moved out, and/or had children. My parents moved away from our childhood home to a city 4 hours away. As our family grew, it was harder to coordinate us all being together at the same time. While sometimes bittersweet, change is a part of life.
There was a period of time where I found myself in limbo when it came to Christmas traditions. That’s when I found comfort and delight in the beautiful lights of my Christmas tree. Each year, the weekend after Thanksgiving, I was sure to have my Christmas tree up and decorated.
Maybe that’s why I insisted maintaining this tradition when my husband Ben resisted it. Our first Christmas together, he thought we should we wait until later as his family did. However, I put my foot down and it’s been incorporated into our own Christmas traditions now. For the past three years, we’ve purchased our tree at the Boy Scouts station a block away from our apartment and walked it back home. Then, we’ve spent a cozy evening with eggnog, Celtic Christmas tunes, and tree decorating.
Transition is never easy, but it’s been lovely settling into new traditions with my husband. We attend a Christmas Eve service at our church, then head to my sister’s house afterward. It’s reminiscent of Christmases of my youth with the chaos, gaiety, cookie trays and late night snacking.
Christmas Day is spent at Ben’s grandfather’s house with his extended family & cousins. His grandmother is no longer with us, but we honor her by making some of her family-favorite recipes.
Boxing day is spent at Ben’s mother’s house with his siblings. After the nieces and nephews open their gifts, the living room looks like a Christmas bomb went off.
All these days are filled with laughter, love, and family.
It’s the season of giving, so as I sit under the glow of my Christmas tree this year, I’ll be planning the gifts I’ll buy and the food I’ll contribute to our gatherings. And I’ll be grateful that I have all the gifts I need this year: a husband to love and support me, two families to laugh and cry with me, and a faith that sustains me.
Photo courtesy of Greyson Joralemon via Unsplash