Jan Swan Wood: Christmas, then, now, always

Christmas is upon us. Maybe it’s already passed by the time you read this. Maybe it’s tomorrow. It doesn’t really matter. Christmas is many things for people. For Christians, it is the time to celebrate the birth of their Savior, Jesus Christ. It’s celebrated over much of the world and in varying ways.

To me, it’s not only the celebration of Christ’s birth, but a time of family and friends, hope and thankfulness. As a small child, my earliest memories of Christmas is family. I come from a big family. I have five siblings and four cousins who are as close as siblings. On Christmas Eve we would all gather at Gramy and Grandad Swan’s house. That little house was fair bursting at the seams and I’m sure the decibel level was damaging with the adults and all the kids running on homemade taffy and excitement.

I was pretty young when Grandad passed away, but the tradition of Christmas Eve at Gramy’s house continued until she was past 90 years of age. She basked in the loving gathering of family and friends. When she could no longer host it, it was moved to my oldest brother’s house. By then, all of my generation were married and with kids, so there were still little people running amok through their house. But, we had scattered some. With marriage comes another family, so some didn’t make it to Christmas Eve every year as they were spending it with their spouse’s family or home with their own kids. That was okay, though, because there was still a big crowd and we all knew that siblings and cousins were doing what was best for them.

My oldest brother moved to Texas, and though the invitation still stood, for some reason, none of us ventured there for Christmas Eve. My cousin then took it over and the crowd thronged their home. Centrally located, it would be packed and always, there were the new little people to get acquainted with.

Christmas Day, when I was younger, was traded back and forth between my folks’ house and my Aunt Lois and Uncle Keith’s house. We’d go sledding, maybe ice skating, eat too much, get sugared up on homemade candies, open gifts and mostly, love each other. It just never seemed to last long enough. When weary parents would tell us to get gathered up to go home, I remember wanting to stay longer every time. There was never enough time to spend with my cousin Sandy.

Eventually, due to the ever growing size of the crowd, the two families started having Christmas Day seperately. I was probably a pre-teen when that happened. It seemed weird not having my bestie cousin to spend it with, but it was still a wonderful celebration of family. My older siblings were starting to have families of their own so the new babies and little people were fun to spend time with. Gramy would spend part of the day with one side of the family and then someone would get her to the other side for the rest of the day. Having Gramy there was the hub of the family wheel.

The tradition of Christmas at Mom and Dad’s was rocked when Mom passed away. I missed the last Christmas with her due to a blizzard that had us snowed in for days. I’ll always regret that eventhough there’s nothing that could have been done about it. Dad continued to host Christmas for several more years with us girls’ help. Then it moved to another brother’s house and we gathered there with four generations thrown together from the corners of the world to hug, catch up, laugh too loud, eat too much, and simply celebrate our family. Dad would sit and hold court with everyone, a great grandchild often snuggled on his lap. Two and a half years ago we lost Dad, and we determined to keep gathering in spite of his absence. Oh how he enjoyed those family get togethers, as do we, so we continued in his memory.

We all thought those Christmas gatherings would last forever. But, change is inevitable. Circumstances of health challenges, job commitments, family obligations, miles of seperation and just life have caused this Christmas to be different than ever before. A small group will gather together at my niece’s home, enjoy each other’s company, share the love of our family with some who are chosen but not of blood, eat too much, laugh too loud and stay too late. It will be the same feeling, just fewer of us.

The constant though, is love. Always love. Like the love of our Father who sent His Son, whose birth we celebrate so extravagantly every year at this time. Make it last. Celebrate Christ and His love the other 364 days too. I hope you are all blessed this season and the year through. Merry Christmas.