The Christmas spirit is a funny and ephemeral thing. Sometimes it’s found in the twinkling lights, sometimes at the Santa visit, and sometimes at the table while eyeing the Christmas turkey. In our family, it showed up through the gifts and yes, there was a special tradition attached (of course). Our family always attempted to start out our gift-giving with a calm, one-by-one approach so that the gift-giver could thoroughly enjoy the recipient’s delight. For those in the family who were thoughtful givers, this was essential for a satisfying holiday. And we tried, boy, did we try to follow the rule.
But inevitably, by the end of the evening, after much eggnog and attention-diverting toys, we had devolved into pandemonium. This photo of my grandfather was either early in the evening, and he was truly excited about that smart sweater, or at the end of the evening when we had all become gift giddy. A third option is that my grandmother was dissatisfied with his initial reaction to the thoughtful gift, and so he was feigning his exuberance in a second, more emotive attempt at gratitude. The foot-in-the-air joy tells me this third option is where I should place my bet.
We probably all have that one special memory of a gift that we had hankered for over the preceding months so that by the time Christmas morning had arrived, we had worked ourselves into a fit of anticipation. For my sister—a cowboy hat. For my brother—a stereo. For me, I’m certain it was the entire collection of Laura Ingles Wilder’s books.
It’s interesting how the focus of our Christmas exuberance shifts as we go through various life stages. During college, I was excited to have a place to do laundry that didn’t require a quarter per load. I was equally excited about my mom’s home cooking and a reprieve from exams.
Later, when my sister’s family had blossomed, I loved being the gift giver, finding just the right gift that would excite or inspire the mind of a little one—almost always, that meant a book with an inscription from Aunt Neesie.
Once married, I reveled in the cozy, Christmas atmosphere, complete with a fully decorated tree, a fire in the fireplace, and my father-in-law’s festive, Christmas cocktails.
The tide has shifted slightly for me as I’ve aged. Now, instead of a gift to unwrap, I am exuberant over the thought of gathering with family and friends. Yes, I’m at that stage in life where an insanely busy schedule has left me with an appreciation for the gift of time. And it’s sending me into a fit of anticipation of this time together to enjoy each other’s company (and remember those whose joy is no longer earthbound.) I don’t know if I’ll actually greet my loved ones at Christmas this year with a foot in the air, but that’s exactly how I’ll feel.