Paul Hopper (paulhopper) wrote,
Paul Hopper

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reflections of Christmas

When I was little, my father would get me and my brother and sister (and anyone else who was willing) to put luminaries out around the church first Christmas Eve service. Little brown paper bags of sand with a lit candle in the middle, they lit the way for people coming to church for Christmas Eve service, which was often scheduled late enough in the day that by the time you got home from Christmas Eve service, it was past midnight and you were into Christmas morning. Our church collected gifts for families from suburban churches and passed those gifts out at the end of Christmas Eve service. When our family's name was called, one of us would go up and get our bag. Those were the only gifts we were allowed to open that night, even though it was after midnight when we'd get home from church and so, technically, already Christmas. Gifts from extended family sat under the tree until the morning, after we'd gotten some sleep. These were usually the gifts we'd gotten from extended family. Our gifts from our parents were often put off until Epiphany. None of the other kids in school knew what Epiphany was, but it's always January 6th, at least a day or two after Christmas Break had ended.

On Christmas Day and again on Epiphany, the family would sit around the tree in the living room and take turns opening gifts. Although, of course, we'd anxiously wait for our turn to come around to open our next gift, I think this practice helped teach us that it was nice not only to get gifts for yourself, but also to see the happiness others get out of opening gifts, thoughtfully picked out just for them. A simple thing like taking turns opening gifts is a discipline I insist on instilling in my own children with the hope that they would eventually come to appreciate it for some of the same reasons I do.

Though my father finally gave up the idea of having a real Christmas tree when we moved into an apartment, back when we lived in the house, we'd go out every year and hunt our own tree. We'd drive out to a tree farm and pick out the tree we wanted, someone would chop it down, and we'd tie to the roof of the car and bring it home. I don't know if it was the nice smell of the pine tree or simply knowing that it was a real tree, but there was something special about having that tree there that I missed in later years when it was replaced with an artifical one. The holiday itself felt more genuine and real back then than the years since.

Christmas was making candy cane cookies with my mother in the days leading up to Christmas. And then eating them, of course. It was hunting the tree. It was the delicately wrapped presents beneath it. It was Christmas Eve service. It was the luminaries we put out along the sidewalk, the warm candle light against the cold snow Christmas Eve night. It was the family together, taking turns opening gifts. As cold as that house would get in the winter, I think of Christmas and get a sense of warmth.

It's been a long time, though, since Christmas has been Christmas. And the loss of my father this year means Christmas can never again come close to how I remember it. The truth is, I know I still could have gone to Christmas Eve service this year, I could have postponed opening some gifts until Epiphany, and there's a lot of other things I could have done. But I'd rather not. Like the artifical Christmas tree, it's just not the same. My father was an integral part of Christmas. There's no pretending otherwise.

When I think of Christmas, I think of years long passed. And that's the way I like it. It's better for me for now to not attempt to make Christmas a memorable experience, to not attempt to recreate the past, lest memories of the artificial holiday experience overwrite my fonder memories of genuinely happier times, turning the holiday into a mockery of itself.

True enough, I'm sure there'll be a day when I lose myself in the moment and allow new memories to be forged in my mind as Christmas itself is born anew, but, until those warm feelings of the holiday season sweep me up in a whirlwind of happiness and excitement and joy, I'll patiently wait my turn.
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