Years ago I took the process of decorating our house for Christmas very seriously. I had separate bins for different areas of the house and each contained things reserved just for that spot. It wasn't work to me - I loved it. It wasn't just the finished product I liked, either. I loved the whole process... the transformation. These last few years I take the bins out of the storage room and I open them and look at what they contain and feel exhausted. I remember the places the garland and the berries and the bows hung and I have good memories of it all, but I just can't conjure up the energy it would take to maneuver what's in the bins to its place in the house. I am learning to be ok with that. To look around at the little, subtle bits of Christmas and not feel guilty about how sparse it is, or how simple it has become. Finding peace in bins that remain closed and contained is important.
Our big Christmas tree is a mish-mash of lots of different kinds of ornaments from places and times in our life as a family. It tells our story, in a way. Lots of people have perfectly matching ornaments and a perfect color scheme on their trees, but we're not that family. Lately, when our girls have been coming home from their friend's houses they marvel at the fact that their friends have trees that look "perfect". Hannah, especially, laughs about our tree, and wonders what those friends would think if they saw it. She feigns embarrassment at our family tree, but if I'm right, I think she's endeared to it and loves the stories it holds.
There is one ornament, in particular, that makes us all laugh. It's a plastic spoon with a gold bow tied around it, a face drawn on it, and a halo added on top. I suppose you could call it a "primitive angel". The name "Sasha" is scrawled on the back, and there is no ornament on that tree I love more.
Hannah has laughed and said, "Who hangs a plastic SPOON on their Christmas tree?"
And I know she wouldn't have it any other way.
I've been stuffing and addressing envelopes this week. Just like the ornaments on our tree, the names on the Christmas card envelopes tell stories about where we've been and who we are. My "master list" holds the key to different doors of our lives. Friends from elementary school and childhood. Friends from University years who I still hold dear. Lots of friends from our two years in BC. Those envelopes are the hardest to address. I can usually go about most days and weeks without missing our life in Vancouver too much. Of course, when the temperature plummets and everything is coated in snow and ice, it's hard not to let your mind drift back to how lush and green and fresh everything remains on the coast. But when I write out the names and the familiar addresses, the sadness for the beautiful relationships we left behind becomes real and painful again. I wonder how many more years I will address envelopes for those friends. Will I be able to keep up and stay connected? Will we be forgotten? Will we forget?
But for now we know we haven't forgotten. And with every swoop of the pen to write another name of a family we love and miss, I take a moment to feel the sadness and the gratitude and remember.
Hannah went to a Christmas party last weekend. It was a party comprised of six girls from her grade who have become really close friends. The mom of the girl who hosted the party showed me a picture on her phone this week that she took of six thirteen year old girls in bathing suits and toques, dancing and singing and about to go jump into the outdoor hot-tub. I loved the juxtaposition that the picture showed - bathing suits and toques - two things that rarely go together. I loved the gigantic smiles I saw and the freedom that was evident in order to prance around in your bathing suit and dance your face off.
At an age that can entail so much body shaming, and body loathing, the picture of these girls with their heads thrown back with smiles from ear to ear painted a different picture. Adolescence doesn't have to be that way.
And I was grateful.
Last Saturday night we had my classmate and friend Mary, and her partner Jennifer here for supper. After we were finished eating, Jennifer, (who is an incredibly gifted pianist) began to play Christmas songs, and Mike grabbed his violin and played along. They played old standards and some sacred melodies, and we sat on the couch and sang along, while Ellie danced and we all laughed. It sounded amazing, and we joked that they could take their show on the road. It was a beautiful moment, and I couldn't help but think how amazing the world is when your husband is playing violin with an American pianist from Egypt, while her Egyptian partner sits beside you and sings her heart out while your kids laugh. Who dreams up these combinations? How did these beautiful souls end up in my corner of the world? The mystery of connection and relationships astounds me. Definitely one of the best memories of this Christmas.
One of the songs Jennifer and Mike played together was "O Holy Night". There is a line in that carol that gets me every time. I sing it, and then I can't stop thinking about it:
"Truly He taught us to love one another.
His law is love,
And his gospel is peace."
His law is LOVE? Amazing.
When the word law makes us think of rules and punishment and enforcement and rigidity, God turns it upside down and says His law is love.
That is the kind of God I can get behind.