Last night was a first: we celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas Day. I had the day to prep, and it reminded me of those growing-up years on the farm. Since my brothers, now passed on, are quite a bit older than I am, Christmas family gatherings were later in the day on Christmas so they could be with their kids or other extended families first.
It's what I grew up with, and I enjoyed the way we eased into the holiday. I opened gifts from Santa / my parents, and then we had a few hours to get ready for the rest of the family to join us for the big meal, gifts, and fun.
This approach worked out equally well after I got married because we could gather at Brian's folks on Christmas Eve, then have Christmas morning with them before heading east to be with my folks and extended family for a dusk celebration.
I loved those moments on the curvy, ribbony-hilled back roads of northwestern Union County, Indiana as we approached the farm in late afternoon, knowing all the fun ahead.
Yesterday as Brian and I got the house and food ready, I put the finishing touches on a white elephant exchange to do for laughs. There was even a dog category with three family dogs in attendance.
The fun took me back to 1981, our first Christmas in Fountain County. That summer Brian had accepted his first school administrative job at Fountain Central. We couldn't sell our trailer back in Richmond, Indiana and didn't know how or when that would happen. So we continued to pay on it and the lot rent, as well as the most reasonable rent on the spacious country home we rented.
My job was to attend college full time in person and take every extra short course or correspondence course I could to get my journalism degree and begin the career I dreamed of as a community journalist. With Brian's pay raise, it was possible, but without me contributing any money to the cause and these added expenses, we had little left for extras. There would be no new furniture, clothes, or other indulgences.
Yet we were happy as clams. Our dreams were coming true. We had each other. We had lots of plans.
That Christmas season, we went to an all-staff dinner party at the home of school secretary Barb Clark. Barb was all things to all people--and turning her family's basement into a party room with food and decorations fit for royalty was one of her endless talents. Barb could do anything well--backward in heels.
I was relieved that instead of spending money on "real" presents, we were to bring a gag gift for an exchange. Since those can be anything, and I had a silly fringe-laden top that I never wore and think I surely got in another silly exchange, it was wrapped and gifted. Done.
When I opened my designated gag gift, it was a Mennen Speed Stick. You would have thought it was the Hope Diamond. I don't recall our exact words but I know that we carried on about it as though we had hit pay dirt!
We looked at each other with delight: something we could use! Something namebrand even! Something we didn't have to spend money on! We held our deodorant close. I don't remember much else about the evening, other than the glow we had between us knowing that our underarms would be covered for a good while and live rent free on our bodies. Yippee!
Later, Barb was told the story and she recalled her version of a similar one: the Christmas that she and her beloved husband Hersh, were pressed for money and he bought her a potato masher. She was delighted!
As we gathered with our kids, and Ben's wonderful girlfriend, Julie, yesterday, (hugs to Sam's girlfriend Ashley, who was unable to join us with her beautiful daughters), we had the luxury of not only gag gifts (dish sponges and soy sauce, anyone?) but real gifts that cost considerably more.
The real Gift of Christmas is the Reason for the season: The Word who was made flesh and came to dwell among us ... (John 1:14).
Feeling grateful for life, health, peace, family, friends, and for His gift, according to God's perfect plan.
May your Christmases be bright, and all your gag gifts be useful.