It's the memories, those of the past both near and far, as well as those in the making. My childhood memories are often vague and fleeting, and in talking with siblings, I find they are not always as reliable as I wish. Turns out "we always used to..." is more likely "we this one time...." While it took me by suprise when I realized that, turns out it's ok.
Childhood December memories for me are centered on Christmas preparations, things like stringing popcorn and cranberry garlands or crafting red and green construction paper garlands. We bric-a-bracked, glittered and glued alls sorts of decorations to hang or tape to all sorts of surfaces. A couple of my sisters were instrumentally musically inclined, so at least once we silly siblings created some kind of holiday show, directed, I suspect, by Mum.
Then there was a teenage December memory full of laughs, the year several of us all had the same idea for gifts for each other: Fannie Farmer cookbook and parakeets. And Mum was so tickled silly at the fact we'd all explode with laughter when we opened our same gifts, she'd forget which ones of us (7 of us, all girls) were involved, and in a fit of mirth would tell the recipient, then turn around to explain to another one what she'd done, only to realize she'd done it again. It was far funnier in the moment than it is in the retelling.
My favorite December memories are the years I hit on Big Ideas for Christmas gifts. The first was my first year away at college, on the other side of the country. How to get meaningful gifts for a large and growing family without having to ship or carry through an airport or spend my very few days before Christmas shopping madly instead of spending time with family? And that was the key to my solution: gather us all for a fun time. I bought tickets for all of us to see Nutcracker Suite at the Bushnell Theater, a truly magnificent place. I kept it a secret, only asked Mum to make sure everyone was at home and dressed up at the right time. What a marvelous evening that was!
My second magical memory grew out of grief. Daddy died a few days before Christmas, a holiday he loved. With my own kids ages 12, 10, and 5, I'd already prepared for Christmas that year, but the following year, facing December and the whole Christmas season seemed so daunting. I just didn't have it in me to shop, but I couldn't leave my kids without their celebration. The perfect answer: a family vacation to Disney World. I also didn't want the kids to miss out on the glorious anticipation of such a big trip, so whenever we were in a shopping line and adults would chat about Christmas plans, I'd whisper my secret to the adults and my kids would see the reaction. They knew something big was coming, just not what. I bought suitcases for each kid, packed their summer clothes, and wrapped the suitcases for them to open. Stocking stuffers were things like disposable cameras and fanny packs. They opened their presents in specific order so they would have a slow but big reveal: suitcases first (my own clothes? uh oh, Mom's lost it), plane tickets nearly last, and Birnbaum's Guide to Disney last. Lots of hopping and happy over that one. We're going to Disney?! Then came the biggest surprise. The oldest asked when are we going? I asked him "how fast can you take down the Christmas tree?" What?? We're going today?? Ohmagawd ohmagawd ohmagawd the excitement. And you bet that tree came down pretty darn fast. Daddy would have loved it.
During this season of commercialism and buying things so soon tossed aside, it's our memories that are special, that warm the heart year after year, the true gifts that keep on giving, and keep on connecting us.