Romeo and Juliet’s lingering stares had nothing on my devoted monitoring of the tree’s gifts. Days were carelessly tossed aside in my pursuit of THE day. There was going to be a wrapping paper massacre. No present would be left untouched.
Finally, the day arrived.
My mother ushered my brothers and me into a separate room while she and my father checked to see if Santa had come.
Rising agitation took over as we monitored the door with hawk-like concentration. Through the air we heard the all-clear signal. Jumping, running, tearing through the halls we finally arrived before the Christmas tree.
A moment of shocked silence as the air escaped our small frames. Santa, as always, had done a swell job. With renewed vigor, cheers, giggles and squeals filled the air. It was a time of celebration.
Before we launched into the remaining presents, my father announced it was time to read the Christmas story.
“Not again,” one of us moaned. “Can’t we hear the story after presents?”
My father denied our request as my mother was too horrified to answer.
“Yeah, Dad,” my older brother spoke up. “We just heard the story last year. I could tell you what it says.”
This was no doubt met by fervent and silent prayers by my mother.
Our will was no match for the task.
“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world,” my father would begin reading from Luke, Chapter 2, Verse 1. “(This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.”
Ignoring our stressed looks, he continued, “So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem, the town of David ...”
Right now I am sitting in the Banner newsroom reliving Christmas past. Next week, God willing and the snow don’t fall, I will be with my family once again. Only about 10 stories, a nine-hour drive, laundry, packing and cleaning stand in my way.
I would go through much more to be with those four loved ones come Christmas.
A surprising thought recently came to mind, as much as I enjoy receiving presents (and trust me, I do) being with my family is what I dream of each day. There are no thoughts of presents keeping me up each night. Instead, I find myself longing for the sweet warmth, laughter and memories which will be found at Home, Sweet Home, this year.
When I look back on Christmas, I remember the thrill of tearing through presents, but I cherish the memory of my brother’s face when he opened a gift I purchased with care. My heart fills with joy at the thought of baking cookies, playing video games with my brothers, laughing with my family, eating eggs benedict and listening to my father read the Christmas story.
Tradition has long been a cornerstone of my family’s celebrations. There are certain activities we enjoy enough to repeat almost every get-together from two-on-two basketball games to watching cringe-inducing home videos. One of my favorite Christmas traditions was one I took for granted.
An old Swede, whom I called Papa, passed away about a year and a half ago. This past March my granny Sandy left as well. This holiday season will be the first without either of them. When I was younger, I looked forward to their checks and odd stocking stuffers.
As I grew older, I came to appreciate a far sweeter and intangible tradition my Papa kept alive with his fake Swedish accent called, Yingle Bells (for full lyrics look up Yogi Yorgesson’s Yingle Bells).
“Yingle Bells, Yingle Bells,” he would sing after much prodding, “Yingling all de vay. I should have vorn long undervear in that von horse open sleigh.”
All of his j’s were pronounced with a y-sound and each “w” was swiftly changed to a “v.” I marveled at how my Papa could shift from his deep voice to a merry Swedish lilt.
And on he would go until it was, “The night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. I looked at my vatch here and midnight vas near — I think I vill sneak off for just a little bit more scheer. I get home late and oh boy vas I sleeping, when all of the sudden those dumb kids they come leaping. They sit on my face and they yump on my belly, until I’m shivering all over like a big bowl of jelly ...”
Christmas is a time of celebration first for Christ’s birth, and second to reconnect with loved ones. New memories wait to be made as old ones warm the corners of my heart. It would be a lie to say I will not enjoy the presents, but the sweetest are not found in the wrapping paper-covered boxes under the big, green tree.
This year I will wait patiently until the final word.
“On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.”