As Christmas comes each year, I am reminded of my childhood Christmases and the things that made them special. The nativity set painted by my mother. The late-night Christmas Eve service at my church. Boiled custard and homemade cookies.
I remember waking my sister early on Christmas morning (or her waking me), tiptoeing down the hall to peer into the still-dark den. We could see the outlines of Santa's gifts in the shadows, and our hearts quickened as we flipped on the light to see them clearly.
One Christmas still stands out in my memories. I don't know how old I was, but by my looks in the pictures I must have been nine or ten (pre-braces). On this particular holiday, many of our relatives came to visit, and Mom made a stocking for each and every one of them. I can still see our mantle, hung with a dozen stockings or more -- each with the relative's initials stitched on.
Each year we used these stockings for the relatives who were visiting. Whoever was there had a spot on our mantle and found their stocking stuffed. Yet, as it happens, through the years fewer and fewer of these stockings were hung. I can recall pulling the stockings out as we prepared the house for the holidays and reading the initials of family members we'd lost.
Yet, this tradition also reminds me of how our family has grown. First, Tim got his stocking. Next, my brother-in-law Barry. And then, the biggest stockings (and I mean BIG) of them all: Seth and Reed. Mom made these stockings as well ... knitted them. And while she says she didn't realize they would turn out so large, I'm not buying it. I think MiMi knew exactly what she was doing.
I don't know what traditions stand out to my sons, or what their strongest holiday memories will be. Tim, Seth, Reed, and I are creating many traditions of our own as we celebrate the holidays. Yet, we still return to my childhood home each Christmas, so I know that some of their most cherished memories will be the same as mine.
Seth and Reed have also laid under the tree and rearranged MiMi's hand-painted nativity (now chipped in places); they've tasted oh-so-many of her homemade cookies (but not the boiled custard); and they too have looked to the mantle to see their stockings bulging with surprises. And now, my holiday memories include the sight of their excited faces on Christmas morn.