As I sit here surrounded by opened gifts and shredded wrapping, sipping on hot coffee, I look outside and see my first brown Christmas morning; no snow to blanket the ground. This is a year of many firsts for our little family, but mostly it is our first Christmas solely on our own. I think about this and feel a little sad, a little lonely, and just a little blue. But, as I look around me, I see the smiles of my husband and kids and feel the warmth and love from them in the cozy walls of our little rental on 4th. Even the dog, Ellie, is excited with holiday spirit over her new tennis balls and chew toys. I know that I have so much to be grateful for, even with miles separating us from our normal and comfortable routine of spending the holidays with our family and friends. I also realize that though we are not in the same vicinity of our loved ones, the familiar traditions and memories of days past flood in, and I know I am not really alone. It is these memories that comfort me.
We spent last evening in a Methodist Christmas service, and the smells and surroundings of the church made me feel as if we are sitting in the pew with my husband’s family on Christmas Eve. Their little country church in Pasco, Ohio, always felt warm and inviting; the wooden pews, the worn pages of the traditional hymnals, and the friendly smiles of country people. Here, in Havre, I saw the smiles on strangers’ faces and the welcoming handshake of the minister at this small church, and though I didn’t know a soul, I felt at peace and somehow just a little closer to them.
At home, I pull my favorite cookbook from the shelf; the family addition my Grandmother Helen worked lovingly to publish. I see her love for cooking and family shine in each recipe as I turned to the well-used page smudged with sugar, butter, and cinnamon. It’s my Aunt Belinda’s recipe for Caramel Pull-Apart rolls, a Christmas morning tradition. I think of the family gathering later at the lodge in preparation for a family Christmas, the warm apple cider smell that greets your nose at the door, Uncle Jack’s bear hug and sincere love that you are there sharing in the day, and the laughter that will come later from games played and the silly white elephant gift exchange.
As the Elvis Christmas music plays softly in the background, I remember my Grandpa C.B.’s crooked smile as he sings along like he used to when I was a kid. My Grandpa loved Christmas with family; the perfectly chosen and trimmed tree, the handmade gifts shared in love, and the surrounding of cousins, siblings, aunts, uncles, parents and grandparents. This is where we learned respect and love and how to think about others and show sincere thanks as we shared around the tree.
I look at the ornaments on my tree; the collection my mom started from the first year I was born. They hang there reminding me of Christmas’ past. The soft silk of the Hallmark bulbs marking years, the collection of favorite horse ornaments, angels, and the hand-painted wooden sleigh. It brings back memories of decorating with my sisters and brothers, while Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton’s Christmas album, the Statler Brothers Christmas, and other old-time beloved songs played throughout the holidays. I think of sledding in the fresh-fallen snow on Christmas morning, and trudging out to feed the horses on Christmas day, and the welcoming nickers that greeted me. I think of how my parents worked hard to provide for each of us, to make us feel loved and equal, the Christmas morning spread fit for a king, and the family prayer said before the meal. I realize the importance of passing on these memories and traditions to my own children.
Lastly, I think of the familiar verses Luke in the Bible, proclaiming Christ our Savior was born. Without Him, I would not be sitting here today staring out my window, coffee in hand reflecting on these memories. I truly am blessed by Him each and every day. I have truly great friends that have welcomed us here in this new place, a roof over our heads, food in the cupboards, healthy kids, jobs that continue to grow and give, and the gift of love this season, which is the greatest gift of all.
I wish you all the best this Christmas season has to offer and hope that you have loved ones to spend it with. May you find comfort and love in your traditions and memories and remember to give thanks for those that continue to serve our country. But, most of all, remember the reason for the season. May that bring you true warmth, renewed life and spirit, comfort and hope.
Merry Christmas from our home to yours.