Recently, several of my friends and I were talking about the holidays and how each one plans to celebrate them. As you might expect, interjected into the conversation were all of the treasured memories and wonderful traditions that make each of our individual family celebrations so special. And we talked about how our perspective of the holidays changed as we got older. But while our perspective changed, we found that there is one common thread that runs through all of our holidays – past, present and future.
As a child, it is a time of year when your eyes sparkle with wonderment at the holiday landscaped store windows. Of cold, rosy cheeks from a long day of sculpting the perfect snowman. Of meticulous penmanship as you craft your wish letter to Santa, thoughtfully prioritizing each gift. A time for snuggling next to Mom and Dad with a cup of piping hot chocolate as you watch Frosty the Snowman for yet a third time. “Dad, are you sure Frosty will come back next year?”
Behind the scenes, Mom and Dad orchestrate the upcoming celebration. Sweet smells permeate the house. Ornaments, each with its own special story, populate the Christmas tree. Dad is in the basement late into the night, hunched over the assembly instructions, mumbling under his breath that the darn holes don’t line up. Packages begin to arrive from family and friends from out of town and are placed around the tree as fine jewelry adorns the neck.
You rush home from school each day anticipating the ice cold glass of milk and the special treat Mom prepared just for you. Then comes Christmas morning. You spring from bed, dash downstairs flush with anticipation. “Santa came! He remembered just what I wanted.” But all too quickly, the innocent years pass.
You’re older now. It seems like only yesterday that college was in the distant horizon. You couldn’t wait to get out on your own. Independence! Living under your own rules. Family pictures in your dorm link your heart to those at home. Home-cooked meals, once taken for granted, have become delicacies. And by the first snowfall, yearnings for family overshadow everything. The embers of your childhood reignite with the holiday season. Your car, stuffed with presents and dirty laundry, winds along the ribbons of highway as if set on autopilot. Mom and Dad are snuggled together with a cup of piping hot chocolate anxiously waiting your arrival. “Are you sure he said he be here by 2?”
Behind the scenes, Mom and Dad have been orchestrating the upcoming celebration. “Make the double rich chocolate chip cookies – he likes those with a cold glass of milk.” The house is trimmed with Christmas color. Gift-wrapped boxes reside in the spot once reserved for toys. Dad is hunched over the operating instructions mumbling under his breath “I don’t even know what this thing even does, never mind how to operate it.” Still there’s something missing. “Anybody home?” you teasingly whisper. The house is once again transformed into your home as family comes together. You share an ice-cold glass of milk and devour the special treat Mom prepared just for you. Something homemade! Then comes Christmas morning. Now you stir from your bed, wander downstairs with a reserved anticipation and are awed that Santa remembered just what you wanted.
But all too soon the college years pass.
A new chapter of your life begins. You are awed once again, but this time by your child’s wonderment, his heart racing with excitement as the line inches closer to Santa. Sitting slumped on Santa’s lap, this typically boisterous child timidly proclaims, “I’d like a new sled. ” A two-foot-high band of ornaments encapsulates the lower portion of the Christmas tree – his reach is a little limited. The kitchen is alive with chatter. Sticky hands intentionally select the cookies that will be left for Santa. Ibuprofen is your new best friend, as you await its Christmas magic that allows you to walk erect again after rolling the snowman’s body twice around the yard because “it needs to be bigger, Mom.” The family snuggles with cups of piping hot chocolate waiting for Frosty the Snowman to begin. “Are you sure we shouldn’t wait for Grandma and Grandpa? They said they would be here soon.”
Behind the scenes, you're busy orchestrating the upcoming celebration. Your home is scented with the memories of your childhood, as if lovingly guided by your mother’s hand. You’ve made the now-famous double rich chocolate chip cookies – your “cookie buddy” will need one with a cold glass of milk after engineering a snow fort in the backyard. Late at night, you’re hunched over the assembly instructions. A smile blossoms from ear to ear. For the first time you understand the privilege your Dad felt to be chosen as Santa’s special helper. “But the darn holes still don’t line up.”
Then comes Christmas morning. Your weary-eyed little buddy catapults from bed and barrels downstairs. “Santa came! He remembered just what I wanted.”
Few times will we ever recall a gift that we got on a particular Christmas. But the memories of the people you love, the laughter and the times shared together will live on – the unbreakable thread that binds us all, not just with our family, but to each other.
Kirk Yon is a resident of Naperville.