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December 22, 2013

Christmas just happens at our house

RICHMOND — Our neighbors had their outdoor Christmas lights up Thanksgiving weekend. At that same time, we noticed beautifully decorated trees planted in picture windows in homes throughout Richmond. With perfectly wrapped gifts under the trees.

I used to marvel over such precision. Wondered what it would be like to kick off the season so early. To enjoy all that holiday spirit for a whole month or more.

But, we’re not that family. At our house, Christmas just “happens.” Over time. It’s a process.

The most pre-planning I do is get the cloth Advent Calendar out so the kids can Velcro the stuffed figures — camels, cows, Three Kings, Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus and other key characters — to the manger scene through Christmas Day.

I also supply the younger ones with a cardboard version. They open a new door every day with a Bible verse about Jesus’ birth — and a piece of chocolate with an imprinted design of angels, stars, wreaths and the like.

But, for the past 22 years, we don’t even think about sprucing up the house until after Mitchell’s birthday on Dec. 10. When he was younger, he stretched his birthday observance over an entire week — school party, family party, party with friends. So until that was sufficiently celebrated, the Christmas decorations remained boxed in the basement.

Other obstacles generally delay our trip to the tree farm, which is our official start of the season. Like Mason being buried under a pile of English 101 composition notebooks that he has to grade before he feels any tidings of comfort and joy. Enough, anyway, to drive us to Baldwin Farm.

I also have final grades to tally for my own classes plus writing projects to complete. And the kids are usually working hard to wrap up their nine weeks of school — writing papers, studying for tests and producing plays. So there’s not much time for Fa-la-la-la-la-ing until that’s under control.

Traditionally, once we find free time in that hectic schedule, our trek to the tree farm is often on the frostiest, windiest, muddiest day of December.

Depending on the temperature, wind chill, and concern about the van getting stuck in the mud, we might wander awhile in search of the perfect tree, or choose the first one we see. It’s still a highlight of our family traditions.

As the song goes: “How often has the Christmas tree, afforded me the greatest glee.” It’s worth the time, hassle and effort — even fending off Jack Frost nipping at our toes, nose and other extremities

Back home, the scavenger hunt begins for the twinkly Christmas lights, sturdy tree stand, homemade ornaments, individually designed stockings and other things we packed away the previous year.

Our house has very little storage space so not everything is neatly stacked together. Still, we manage to find the bits and pieces that are meaningful to the kids and start decking the halls.

Now, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas at our house. And we have about 12 days of Christmas preparations ahead.

We haven’t taken a family photo for our Christmas cards yet. I’m waiting for the right time when things aren’t so hustley. And bustley. Where we can actually laugh all the way through the experience.

At this late date, I might try something entirely new for us. Wish our friends a Merry Christmas — digitally. That will spare me from tracking down addresses for people we only contact once a year.

I actually tried Black Friday shopping for the first time this year. It was rather anti-climactic considering many of the Thursday night sales were available on Wednesday.

Fortunately I’ve collected a few evergreen presents throughout the year. Mostly gag gifts. Stocking stuffers. Unisex items for all ages for those times when you need an emergency gift on the spur of the moment.

But another flaw of our house is not having many hiding spots. So I’ve had to scatter the gifts out of sight in numerous places. And leave myself a map for finding them later, when I need them.

There have been times when I’ve forgotten some hidden gifts until well after Christmas. It’s a good thing two of the kids were born in January and February. I just change holiday wrapping paper for something less seasonal, and they become birthday presents.

My favorite part of the holiday build-up is Christmas Eve: the church service. Then home for snacks. Movies. And opening one gift in front of the fire.

Feeling joyful. And triumphant. By letting Christmas just happen.

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