I grew up a Christmas Eve person. Some of my most joyful memories of this celebration happened on that very night. I first realized my love of the spoken word during a church holiday pageant. My Uncle Danny’s yearly vow to be well from his cold-weather bought of bronchitis, which thankfully he always come Christmas morning. How my grandmother loved to create a new wreath for her home each year, which she laid out for the world to see each Christmas eve. and I took turns studying each beautifully wrapped package under the tree, trying to guess its contents.
As a child, I also loved Christmas eve for the opportunity it gave me to hone my spidey senses. I liked to studying each beautifully wrapped package under our family tree, trying to guess its contents. The house was filled with the delicious aroma of fresh baked cookies set out for Santa Claus, fancy buttery cookies from local bakeries, and even a few janky, but lovingly decorated cut out cookies created by yours truly.
I even loved the simple joys of the season. As the only child in the home, I had the tasks of both eating the last piece of advent calendar chocolate and placing the porcelain baby Jesus in the nativity scene by the Christmas tree.
But despite this joy, my home life was often far from happy. I remember fondly each Christmas eve, as we opened our presents, that instead of sharing in the pure joy of being together as a family, the laughing and oohing and ahhing over the best gifts we each received, we were busy passing around bags. Bags to collect torn wrapping paper and bags to collect back the toys and presents we had just opened. These bags contained the holiday facade of our home, the veneer of purchasing gifts to keep up with appearances for the rest of the world to see, so we could purchase gifts that were never destined to stay within our home.
You see, my grandmother didn’t believe in allowing children to keep more than a one holiday toy each year, which generally left me with one gift, generally a book, and without fail each Christmas morning all my gifts were taken with us to mass, where the presents were given to children less fortunate than myself. This was of course coupled with her impulses to overspend each holiday season, so in lieu of buying fewer gifts for colleagues, co-workers, and neighbors, and instead of allocating those funds to purchase gifts for those less fortunate, those needed gifts came from those in her own home. We lived and gave like that of the Pharisees.
While I always seemed to get exactly what I hoped for, I never remembered feeling the tactile nature of the day. The one toy I was able to keep was generally a collectible. Generally an American Girl doll or holiday Barbie, and though lovely and incredibly generous gifts, these were toys to be seen and not used, gifts that remained encased on high away shelves, never to be loved. The same toys that cemented to me a feeling of Christmas mornings in my home being very bittersweet, at least that’s how I remember it.
Then later, even as an adult, when recanting these experiences to my newly found birth mother, who upon asking me how my childhood holidays occurred, discounted my memories and relished in believing that my memories were nothing more than childish lies. And so it’s for those two reasons that I’ve always held a small bit of guilt for not being one of those merry-makers who love Christmas morning. The same memories of Christmas mornings that to this day always leave a small pang of disappointment in my heart each year.
Now friends, don’t think this story to be one of sadness and despair. It was because of these events that I was able to make a great Christmas eve revelation even from an early age, that the hours leading up to Christmas Eve each year were some of the happiest times in my life. Times when business was replaced with purpose. Where talents were put before the world to see. Where holiday music played and when hearing my home wrapped up in the sounds of my uncle’s laughter meant more to me than any present that could be unwrapped beneath the tree.
I learned that the true message of Christmas Eve was simple: You are loved. Loved by God. Loved by your family of choice, and even for a few moments, loved by the world. Everything that I remember and hold dear to in those childhood memories tells me that.
For me, the greatest value in being a Christmas eve person, including you all my dearest readers, should be the same: Christmas eve is a splendid time of year because of the birth of Jesus Christ, and that is the kind of good news and great joy that no amount of conspicuous consumerism, bittersweet memories, nor the longing to see loved one’s long since passed, can ever take away.
As you are reading this I am spending time with my own family, with those who make tomorrow’s sorrows seems so small in comparison to the memories I will be making on this day. So friends, take heart. I have always been a Christmas eve kind of person, and I hope in some small way you all will be too! Today is a celebration of joy. A day of peace. A moment of great jubilation. A time when presents simply don’t matter.
Take time today for yourself, for self-care, for reflection, and above all else, for laughter. Remember to find moments of joy. To be enamored with hope, for this is what being a Christmas eve person is all about.