My annual Christmas doldrums stayed away until the week before the big day. They slowly made their way into those early mornings hours when I worry myself awake. They like to sit on my chest, heavy and soggy with tears, insisting on staying put until I get up and take Sam for his walk.
It helps to watch the eastern sky begin to glimmer with the rising sun in the crisp air of dawn. Robins not yet chilled enough to fly south, greet us with cheery chirps as they scatter dead leaves and broken twigs, looking for a small breakfast morsel of worm or bug. As the night fades my spirit lightens. The heaviness begins to drop away and when I catch my first glimpse of that brilliant orb of light, the burden is gone.
A few other early risers and their dogs, shuffle by, nodding and raising a sleepy hand in greeting. When we meet in broad daylight, we often stop and share stories about what is happening in our lives. But early in the morning, it’s far too cold and blustery to stop and chat. We all rush home for eggs over easy, bacon, and toast. The stretch of daylight before us won’t last long enough for all of the things we need to get done.
The days are hopscotch quick and this year it’s difficult to get things organized for the coming holidays. In order to avoid the madness of Christmas crowds, I order gifts online or buy them from friends who create simple things like bees-wax candles, gingerbread soap, or spicy brown sugar scrub for making one’s skin feel like the softest silk.
I sometimes make a few things myself, like the elderberry syrup that my son loves. It is medicinal and filled with the goodness of not only dark and delicious elderberries, but also elder flowers, rose hips, licorice, orange rind, all steeped together in raw honey and brandy for four to six weeks. Mark pours it over ice cream and other sweets. His interest tends toward the gastronomic, but if his luscious desserts happen to keep a cold or the flu at bay, so much the better.
This year I couldn’t seem to get it together and as the holiday grew ever closer the pall of the shootings in Connecticut stayed with me. Christmas eve was especially difficult and I’m still bereft for the families who lost their loved ones that cruel, sunny day.
I did make Mark his dream syrup, but the rest of the things I told myself I’d get together didn’t really happen. Despite my sadness, somehow it all worked out and everyone is happy with the tidbits I did managed to gather and pass around.
When Mark and Lisa were little, Christmas often found too many packages under the tree. While unwrapped toys littered the floor, they preferred rolling in torn gift wrap or hiding in empty boxes. When they got beyond that stage, the looks on their faces were more confused than filled with Christmas joy, when they couldn’t figure out which toy to play with first.
As grandchildren have arrived on the scene I’ve become what some kids might consider a Grinchy grandma. I’ve sworn off buying them toys. I go instead for books, games, puzzles, art supplies, or once, it was a fun pair of dinosaur PJs for Noah and a frilly dress for Zoe. Last year, I asked their mom what they needed most. We gave Noah a new pair of prescription glasses, while Zoe got the running shoes, with pink accents that she wanted in order to participate in Girls On The Run. It may not sound very exciting, but everyone was happy.
This year we gave them a few books and money that they are required to spend on helping others rather than on themselves. We did that a couple of years ago and they spent their money at the local nature center, adopting wild animals that live there. The money helps pay for food and other expenses for the red wolves, otters, black bears, or other native species that they choose to adopt. Noah and Zoe loved the idea so much that they asked if we could do that again this year. This proud grandparent thought that it was an awesome request. I was once again reminded of the true spirit of Christmas.
The kid’s handmade gifts to us are magical. Noah built a colorful hanging bird feeder with the help of Deena. Zoe created a small and hysterically funny version of our dog, Sam, using pipe cleaners and small fuzzy balls. We’ll treasure them for years to come.
We especially treasure the few days we had to spend with them, seeing the fantastic one-man show, Marley’s Ghost, and walking around Lake Tomahawk, while trying to keep hissing geese from chasing us. The ease and simplicity of Christmas day itself was a gift.
Zoe, at age twelve, is suddenly as tall as I am. We now stand eye-to-eye and nose-to-nose when we talk. She has a fantastic eye for fashion, especially when it comes to shoes. I’ve always teased her that once we wear the same size shoe, I’d be borrowing hers and maybe even taking them home with me if they are comfortable enough. This year Santa brought her a pair of black and pink zebra striped running shoes. I was sorely tempted to try them on, but even though I love wild shoes, I must say they were just a tad over the top for a woman of seventy.
Noah, at nine, is into Big Foot, looking for signs of the beast that so many claim really does exist. When I told him that I’d probably be scared to death, if I met Big Foot in the forest, Noah told me that Big Foot is a guardian of the earth and would never hurt me.
Christmas is not about the glow and glitter that is touted in the media. It’s not about electronic gadgets, toys, and having more. Christmas is about the birth of one of the greatest teachers of all time. And though I do not consider myself a Christian, I celebrate Jesus along with all of the other great spiritual teachers, as I learn from their lessons in kindness. We all need to remember that when the Magi brought their gifts of Frankincense and Myrrh to the child asleep in the manger, they were gifts of spirit … irreplaceable symbols of love.