What gifts do you remember receiving as a child? I can recall only a few. Instead, I remember family gatherings beginning with those at my grandmother’s house. Grandma served lutefisk (we kids got to have pigs-in-the-blanket instead of the pungent cod) and great desserts. My favorites were her famous pecan dreams and poppy seed cake. Afterward, the cousins hung out in the basement where we played the classic card game “Spoons,” which often resulted in scratched hands, squeals, and laughter. I treasure the memories of those carefree fun times with family.
I don’t remember what gifts we gave our children years ago, but I do have great memories of venturing out with our hound dog Ginger to cut the Christmas tree. Big brother carried the saw while his sisters, in snowsuits, either hiked or got a ride on the sled. My husband always looked for a tree with a straight trunk. I looked for one with a bird’s nest. Once the perfect tree was found, we cut it and placed it on the sled. One year we brought along a harness and hooked Ginger up to the sled. She gave each of the little girls a ride.
Earlier gifts are long forgotten, but not the magical Christmas morning we skied in Sylvania Wilderness. We skied around a bend where a stand of white birches contrasted against the ice-blue sky. The sunlight caught my daughter’s eyelashes just right. They were frosted in silver.
I can’t remember what gifts I gave my grandsons last year, but I do remember playing in the snow with them. We cross-country skied on a groomed trail. Even the four-year-old completed a two-hour loop. We tossed chunks of snow to Josie the dog and she leaped for them, enjoying being part of the fun. We tunneled through the snow toward evening and built a snow fort which we lit with LED candles so it glowed an orangey-red.
I don’t remember specific details of any Christmas Eve sermon—sorry, Pastor Steve— but I do remember the warm feeling I got walking down the church sidewalk lit by candles glowing under paper bags. I remember my eyes welling up as I listened to a mother and daughter sing “Mary, Did you Know” and the feeling of community when, at the end, the lights dimmed and one lit candle touched another and another until the whole church was glowing.
I also remember the Christmas Eve service when my family and I had all we could do not to burst out into inappropriate laughter. My son, son-in-law, and husband were asked at the last minute to be the three wise men in the nativity scene. My son and son-in-law were handed appropriate costumes, but my husband received a gaudy king’s robe and a moth-eaten furry hat. When he walked down the aisle, trying to appear kingly, those of us in the family watching from the pew had all we could do not to burst out into giggles. He couldn’t look at us either. And my son and son-in-law didn’t dare make eye contact for fear they’d break out in laughter. It’s one of my favorite family Christmas stories to tell.
I don’t remember many of the gifts I received from family and friends over the years, but I do remember cheerful greetings, kind words, and laughter. “Do small things with great love,” Mother Teresa said. Our family gatherings will be different this year, but I still hope I can give and receive the gifts that truly matter—precious moments in time.