(originally published in ©The Mailboat Christmas 1992)
Christmas Eve has always been the biggest day of the year for my parents. All of their children, with their families, would gather at Mama and Daddy's for the big Christmas party and to retell the story of the Nativity. When I was younger, the brothers and sisters, there are ten of us, would exchange our gifts, but as we grew older and the crowd grew larger, that became impractical. So eventually we just enjoyed each other's company for a while before watching Mama and Daddy as they opened the presents they had received from their ever expanding number of progeny.
Then again last year, my niece had a baby just a few days before Christmas and we decided to wait until she was able to come home with her "Christmas present" to have our party. (Susan and I could sympathize with how she felt, having had three of our children born in December, and another in late November.) Again, the gathering was fun, but something was missed in waiting until after the traditional time.
But if something was lost, something also was gained. After meeting together with my parents' family it would usually be 10:00 pm or later before we could all make it back to our own homes. Only then could we gather in our own smaller groups for a final portion of that day's Christmas spirit. That was too late to do much more than say "goodnight" to our younger children. But these past two years I have enjoyed being at home for the entire evening with just my wife and our six children, and starting our own Christmas traditions.
Just after sundown, Michael, our youngest, began to ask how much longer before we could begin to open presents. He asked the same question at least fifty more times before we finally satisfied his impatience. But before we did, we gathered around the dinner table for a candle-lit Christmas Eve dinner. With beautiful music playing in the background, each of us took turns in giving thanks for the blessings we enjoyed, the most special of which was the birth of the Savior. Thankfully, not very far down each one's list was their appreciation for being a part of our family, and for the love and happiness we share in our little home.
After dinner we went into the living room, around the tree, and shared in reading the Christmas story from the scriptures. Finally, before going to bed, each of the kids was allowed to open some of the presents that had enticed them for a week or more under the Christmas tree. Then began the long process of trying to get six children asleep in time to allow Santa to position what they all had been awaiting since even before Thanksgiving.
I'll worry about that when I have to. As for now I am content to enjoy the gifts I have been given. And as I do I will have a better understanding of why my parents are so insistent that Christmas is not the same without their children close by on Christmas Eve. After just two years of being alone with mine, I can appreciate how the tradition became what it is. Understandably, I enjoy those things that remind me of Christmas past and how it used to be. But at the same time I recognize that what happens here and now can become equally as special in our hearts and minds. As early as next winter, this year's Christmas will be just such a memory, and part of a tradition.