“This gift,” my mom said, “will be different than all the others. This one will last all year, until next Christmas. But,” here she lowered her voice. A delicious conspiracy laced tone brought me up close, “you can’t have it all at once. Some of it we have to save.” She took my hand and led me to her bedroom where on her dresser sat a neat pile of Golden Books. Their spines glistened like shiny coins reflected in my wide eyes.
“The first day of every month,” my mom instructed with her teacher voice, “you can pick one book. But, you have to read it to me before you get the next book.”
I nodded with the wonder of it.
I didn’t know how to read, but it didn’t matter.
My mom spread out twelve books, one for each month, and with one finger I hovered until I landed on my first choice. She made it so much fun, I wasn’t bothered to watch her lift the others high onto a shelf in her closet, for the anticipation of future picking. I clutched the chosen book to my heart, and we curled up together on a chair to read.
Christmases past, like an infinite hall of mirrors, reflects in the pictures of my mind. I hold up the faded images, snapshots of my childhood, then of my four babies growing and becoming, passing from one to another. Reminiscences, a time warp of excited voices and torn wrapping paper, make me smile.
“Kellen, put your firetruck away,” my daughter calls. Her voice bashes into my reverie and brings me back to the present. “It’s got pumpkin pie on it.”
A pile of plastic animals litters our holiday table. Little hands march a lion and bear to meet in fierce battle in front of where I sit. I growl from inside my chest and curl a roar from my throat as they come together.
Washcloth hanging from one hand, my daughter directs her little army. She pulls an elephant from a pink play dough mountain, saves a tiny control car perched precariously close to the edge and wipes sticky remains of applesauce from a coloring book.
“Kellan, take these animals to your room before they get lost.”
I rise to help her attempt to put some semblance of order into the high spirits, full tummies and overloaded sensory systems.
As my daughter counts out her Christmases with her four children, I did mine with my four, and my mom did with her four.
My mother was the queen of tradition-making, of Luke 2 by-memory citing, and nativity re-enactment. She worked to keep the main Gift of Christmas the main gift of our attention. But in all the activities, she recognized the simple power of connection.
Those Golden Books were a discipline. They marked the end of each month, and the beginning of each new month. They snuggled under a blanket, and into my bed. They wrapped me in expectancy and marked time with relationship. Each month I recited the old book by memory, proving the number of times it had been read. Mom always looked at me with pride, as if I had read each word rather than recounted them. Pleased with accomplishment, I would reach for a new book.
Can gift giving be more than providing the newest-latest, wants or wishes? What if relationship spurred our gifts? How would Christmas mayhem change if I considered:
How can I make the joy of my gift linger longer?
How can the gift enforce relationship?
How can I use the gift to bring connection?
With my own children, when the aftershock of Christmas Day juxtaposed with its sacred commemoration, I often felt somewhat guilty, as if in the Christmas confusion I might have squandered something essential. Now my children are in the middle of child-raising and I wonder if they can see themselves between the mirrors of time they are creating, or if their vision is too dimmed by exhaustion and spotted with sticky fingerprints.
Mom’s Golden Books have long since evaporated into time, but the special moments of physical closeness and emotional connection remain. Because the real gift we unwrapped that Christmas was the promise of a year of togetherness.
In the mirrored hall of Christmases, its sweetness lingers.