It starts the weekend after Thanksgiving. I tried the whole thing about not celebrating Christmas until Christmas really comes, celebrating Advent. I tried not putting any Christmas decorations up until at least Gaudete Sunday (3rd Sunday of Advent), but I just didn't like it. So, all the decorations come out right after Thanksgiving. However, it's a process. Over the next couple of weeks I put out all my Christmas ornaments and decorations.
I cover every surface I can find with lights. Lots and lots of lights. Of many colors. Tree, windows, mantel, top of the piano and entertainment center, doorways, stair railing, over the kitchen cabinets. The more lights that go up, the more my energy increases, the more my spirit soars. Then every little ornament I've collected plus all the ones I inherited from my mom find a special place. Some are from her childhood, quite old, with an odd arm or wing missing, paint chipping off which makes them all the more special. Every surface holds a memory for me.
Then there's the reading. All of our favorite Christmas stories. Read every year. After all these years of reading The Christmas Tapestry by Patricia Polacco, I'm still in tears by the end. The Story of Holly and Ivy by Rumer Godden, A Cajun Night Before Christmas, The Donkey's Dream, A Cobweb Christmas, The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, and on and on. Oh, and A Christmas Carol cannot be missed.
Christmas movies. Every single version of A Christmas Carol although the one with George C. Scott is my favorite. White Christmas, Christmas in Connecticut, Holiday Inn, It's a Wonderful Life, Christmas Vacation, A Christmas Story (several times). Truthfully, I never tire of A Charlie Brown Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas (animated), Frosty, and Rudolf. I remember before children thinking how exciting it would be to watch those shows with my children. And I have. Every year.
Baking. Cookies, candy, snacks. Abra and I made a list of all the cookies we wanted to try, went to the store to collect ingredients, and then cooked something almost every day. Extra pounds. Oh, so what. They come off - mostly. And gingerbread houses. This year Rachael came over to make gingerbread houses with her little sisters.
And while all this is going on, there is Christmas music playing in the background. I love Christmas music. Any and all Christmas music. While not classical, Bing and Nat King Cole are still my favorites.
Christmas Day. Early Mass on Christmas Eve, pick up a pizza on the way home, and the traditional early gift. Always new PJ's which is the signal that it's time to go to bed. Then Santa and his helper go to work. Santa is very particular about the way he arranges gifts. They must be perfect. The girls take my phone upstairs so they can call when they wake up - usually around 6:00 AM. Santa's helper gets up, turns on every light and the music, gets Santa out of bed, turns on the video camera and calls upstairs to let the girls know everything is ready. There is an order to how they come downstairs. Youngest first. I'm sitting here with a goofy smile remembering. They play with the Santa gifts while mom puts on coffee. We wait for the bigger girls and their husband/boyfriend to show up before we open the wrapped gifts. It must be done slowly. One at a time. Everyone watches and oohs and aahs at the appropriate moment.
Since there has been so much cooking going on all month, mom takes Christmas Day off. Egg and hashbrown casseroles for breakfast, take out Chinese food for dinner. PJ's all day, if you want. Lay around reading, watching A Christmas Story over and over, playing a new game or putting together the new puzzle.
Nothing comes down until after Ephiphany, usually the weekend after. And then it again is a process. No hurry. In the evening, when everyone is quiet and the littler girls are in bed, I turn on the Christmas lights and sit on the couch with a cup of tea, or maybe a glass of wine, and watch the flames in the woodstove and the multi colored lights and am as contented as can be. I savor that time. It feeds me.
So what is it about Christmas? The religious aspect. Truthfully, no. I wish I could say it was all about Jesus, but it's not. Jesus is not ignored, but he is not the reason I love Christmas so much. Is it the gifts? No. I love giving, but that's not it. This year gifts were quite sparse as money is very tight, still the entire season was no less. My mom loved Christmas. She was like a little kid about Christmas. The entire house would glow with Christmas. Mom wasn't particularly religious; she wasn't anti-religious, just not overly religious. For her, in fact, her whole life, was about family. That was her religion, her spirituality. Family.
And I'm her daughter.