Every Christmas Eve I think back on Christmases of yore (since this is my fiftieth, there are quite a few to ponder!) and how they were spent. I’ve been so blessed to have GOOD memories of GOOD times among those I love.

The “Holiday Season” is a huge whirlwind in my life. My birthday and Christmas are crammed into 4 all-too-brief days and I’m left without a big celebration for the rest of the year. My parents never “cheated” me out of a birthday because it was so close to Christmas–they always took care to keep my birthday separate and make it special. But as I’ve aged I’ve noticed it IS a bit of trouble to celebrate a birthday when so much else is going on…and it tends to slide past with little fanfare. That’s not a bad thing–it’s what it is. 🙂

Back to growing up. My Daddy was the fourth of 6 surviving children (one older brother died as an infant–there was a total of 7 children). My grandparents raised their brood in a 3 bedroom (originally 2 bedroom) house which always seemed on the verge of bursting at the seams. I’ve never known another group of siblings to love each other like Daddy and his did. Christmas Eve was the time we ALL gathered (6 adults and their spouses, a total of 12 grandchildren for most of the years) at Mammaw’s and Pappaw’s for Christmas. The excitement from my birthday just two days before only grew as we piled into the car to head to their house. My cousins from far away and from nearby were always there. We exchanged gifts, ate and ate, laughed, sang, laughed more, ate more and sweated in the close quarters till we ran outside to cool off, then dashed back indoors so we didn’t miss any fun. Pappaw and Mammaw had a tree cut from off the place somewhere, decorated with garland and tinsel and huge lights. The tree and presents weren’t the best part, though–the family was. My aunts, always dressed up and makeup and hair done to perfection. (I have to confess I cannot go out in public without makeup because of their influence–my Aunt Chris taught me that lesson early on.) The boy cousins–always “rough housing” and picking at each other and us girls–until they got a bit older and some turned to playing guitar for us to sing along. The girl cousins who lived out of town and whose visits were so greatly anticipated. Christmas Eve became a whirl of laughter, music, singing, cigarette smoke, perfume and LOVE…so MUCH love…it wrapped us tightly and held on to us through the rest of the year.

Daddy’s siblings were so great. They loved to sit around the table in the tiny kitchen and share jokes. The laughter still rang in our ears when we’d dash outside to take a peek at the sky to see if we could spot Santa’s sleigh. They cut each other no slack, yet they were never ever ugly to each other or critical of each other. The undercurrent in that entire family was “we are SO blessed to be part of each others’ lives!”

When we were there, my mind would slip up on the fact of “It’s Christmas Eve!!” and shivers would run through my body. After all–it was the night before the “BIG day”! When my aunts and Daddy gathered around the piano and sang Christmas carols, they seemed bigger than life. Were it not for the tight confines and unbearable heat, it was Christmas card-perfect. I’d watch Mammaw and Pappaw singing along as they sat side-by-side…holding hands…the occasional tear coursing down Pappaw’s cheek and his quick move to wipe it away before it was noticed. After all…these were THEIR babies. Pappaw sometimes read the story of Christ’s birth from the book of Luke to us as the evening wore on…and the warmth of togetherness was palpable.

Soon…all TOO soon…it was time to put on our coats and pile into our cars again. Again “It’s Christmas EVE!!!” would come rushing to the front of my mind and I’d find my nose plastered to the window of the car as I stared at the stars hanging over our valley, looking for Santa’s sleigh. The drive home was one of trying to see stars above the faint ridges which loomed in the darkness, enfolding us. It WAS home. It IS home. This valley…the place where my Daddy lived all his life…the place where my Pappaw and Mammaw brought their young family to live out their lives. And the place where I will live out mine.

I was outside earlier and “It’s Christmas Eve!!” hit me again. I found myself scanning the skies above the ridges, looking just as I did when I was a child. Mammaw and Pappaw are gone…only three of their children remain…their grandchildren are spread from Texas to NC, and their great-grandchildren have children of their own. However, their love for each other and for their family, and their deep faith, has touched us all.

On this Christmas Eve, as my life has placed me back on the land Pappaw used to work to provide for his family, I am thankful that God blessed me with the Christmas Eves past, and with the example of a family whose focus wasn’t on gifts, but was on love.

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