I thought our big move to Bainbridge Island four years ago and the subsequent reworking of our Christmas traditions was challenging. We went from multiple celebrations that teetered at times on the edge of overwhelming (in sheer volume and number) but were unquestionably full of Christmas cheer and goodwill, to quieter rituals that, while more intentional in nature, sometimes felt like ghosts of their former selves. Little did we know what was waiting for us in 2020.
And so we find ourselves having to whittle down the already whittled-down traditions to versions that would be unrecognizable to us in the days of yore. Christmas shopping is mostly online, there are no parties, no visitors, no concerts, and the sing-alongs will be virtual. Gifts sent to far-off friends and family will contain pre-packaged treats instead of homemade.
But some things won’t change. We’ll bake the same cookies and decorate the tree with the same much-loved ornaments. We’ll read the same books and listen to the same Christmas music we always have. And there will be the usual peace-filled moments, celebratory moments, silly moments, and, I’m sure, moments when I feel utterly overwhelmed by my to-do lists (which somehow never seem to get shorter).
I remember a Christmas party where each guest was asked to share a special Christmas memory. The one that popped into my head was the year of the “Charlie Brown Christmas Tree.” My dad had just retired at 26 from the Army after serving in Vietnam, and we’d moved to the college town of River Falls, Wisconsin. Money was tight and my mom was worried about how we’d afford a Christmas tree that year. One day while walking home from her job on campus, she spotted a tree left in a dumpster by a student who’d gone home for the holidays. It was scraggly, but it was a tree. I told the other party guests that I don’t remember what the tree looked like or what presents I got or didn’t get for Christmas that year, but what I did remember was an all-encompassing feeling of love and warmth and joy from the magic that my parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles created for my brother and me that Christmas, and every Christmas before and after that. I hope Tim and I never have to dig in a dumpster for a tree, but even if we did, my wish for our children is that they will someday look back with the same sense of wonder that we do when we recall our childhood Christmases.
There are Big Moments of wonder, but there are small ones, too, like when the girls and I saw these wax-coated amaryllis bulbs at Trader Joe’s. They don’t need to be potted, they don’t need water. They just grow. How amazing is that?