Wrapping It Up: Ending 2011 and Beginning 2012 (Part 2)

Christmas Eve 2011: At 1 pm, Derek and Julie safely pulled in after logging 3,800 miles between San Diego and Bedford.  Their arrival completed our immediate family circle, which was “all we wanted for Christmas.”  What a gift to have our whole gang together for almost two weeks!

Traditions weave together the holidays, and one of our many treasured traditions is meeting up with Paul and Dawn Amico and their three little ones at Park Street Church for the Christmas Eve candlelight service (now a glow-stick service.)  We love the way Dr. Hugenburger sets the tone for a service that both honors the Christ Child and affirms intergenerational worship.  Following that joyous gathering, we returned to our home for dinner and our “Happy Birthday Jesus” cake.  Wiley, Hadden, and Lucy Amico helped to show Brandon the ropes (since by now, they’re old pros) and we had a great evening together.  It’s a privilege for us to be with the next generation of families who are striving towards Christlikeness in their homes.  The Amicos are doing a great job of it.

Wiley, Lucy, Hadden, and Brandon sing happy birthday to Jesus on Christmas Eve.

The Amicos seemed delighted to receive one of our homemade gingerbread houses.

Another beloved tradition is opening one “surprise” gift on Christmas Eve.  The surprise isn’t the gift—it’s always the same: matching jammies sewn by me for the family.  The surprise is the fabric with which they’re made, which now, because of having a grandson, needs to be gender neutral.  :)  Fortunately everyone loved the choice of flannel (made on Black Friday at 6 am at Joann’s Fabrics’ $1.50 a yard flannel sale!) and our green flannel pants became almost uniform-esque over the next 10 days.

Even Brandon seemed to like the matching jammies, which evidently “dressed” him for the turkey roasting pan.

Christmas morning dawned snowless, despite our longings for a white Christmas, and earlier than it had it years, since we had a 16-month-old in the house.  :)  We had sort of gotten used to doing a lot of “Santa” work on Christmas morning as our “grown-up” daughters slept late . . . but this year shot us back to the days of having toddlers, and the house was fully awake by 7 am.  The traditions continued to unfold as we had almond puff pastry in the shape of a wreath, eggs, and little smokies for breakfast—but after the reading of the Luke 2 account of the birth of Jesus, and the presence of Baby Jesus, whose manger in our creches remains empty until Christmas morn.  Individual floating candles at each person’s place setting remind us that the Light of the world is Jesus, and our still unopened stockings and unwrapped gifts remind us that today is His before it’s ours.

Brandon was quite captivated by his Papa’s reading of the Christmas story before breakfast was eaten.

And then, Santa arrived!  Wearing a now antique Santa suit, worn by his father, Santa Papa Paul made his entrance—briefly—both amusing and petrifying his grandson.  Brandon didn’t know quite what to make of this strangely dressed guy who sounded familiar, but didn’t look at all familiar.  Santa made a quick escape before Brandon could burst into tears and all was well.

Brandon didn’t know what to think of this bright, jolly, familiar-unfamiliar visitor . . .

. . . but in the safety of his mother’s arms, he was amused.

In the arms of “Santa” he wasn’t quite so sure.

Next (as tradition dictates), the stockings are opened . . .

Brandon seems to like the little white bear we brought him from the Steiff factory during our European adventure in September.

 . . . and then a quick photo of the matching jammies in front of the Christmas tree.

Gifts are opened and modeled (when appropriate!)

Much to the surprise of the sons-in-laws, the gift-opening process takes forever.  Not that there are that many gifts.  It’s just that we (me?) like to savor these moments, so we open each gift, one person at a time, and manage to stretch what for Gabe’s family was a ten-minute opening frenzy into a multiple hours event.  :)  Traditions.  At least when we host Christmas.  :)

Dinner preparation comes next and with all hands on deck, we manage to create a modicum of order in our great room and prepare to welcome our traditional Christmas dinner guests.  When discussing Christmas plans, one of the first questions asked by each daughter  is “Will Hank, the Borthwicks, Felicia, and Linda be with us for dinner?”  Gladly, for quite a few years now, we affirm that they will be.  We all love this tradition, too.

Our “family” photo at the end of Christmas dinner... the turkey is no longer stuffed, but we all are!

Brandon, of course, stole the show this year.  He’s just pretty irresistible and was well loved on by all.

Brandon, sporting his Christmas dinner outfit, practices pitching with his new Red Sox ball, given to him by his aunties.

By the time the last dish was done and all candles had been extinguished, we hit the hay, ever so tired, but much more so grateful for such a fitting celebration for the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  It was one of the best Christmases ever—even without the snow.

The party continued the next day when our dear, dear friends John and Marilyn joined us for the afternoon.  Since Santa always leaves their stockings at our house (or wherever we are), we had Christmas, take 2, with them.  A lunch of Paul’s homemade turkey soup carried on yet another tradition.  Just as the Nugents were leaving, the Martis family arrived—and we continued celebrating with family-like friends into the night.  Another wonderfully relaxing day full of memory-making moments.

Our annual Christmas celebration with the Nugents happened on the 26th . . .

. . . as did our time with the Martis family.  Matthew was very loving with Brandon.

Our commitment to “do nothing” was challenged when we found out that our dear friend Helen had emergency surgery the day after Christmas, and the girls voted to drive to Albany, NY, to surprise her with a visit on the 28th.  Helen is deeply loved by all in our family, so it was really not a huge sacrifice.  I wish we could’ve recorded her reaction to our arrival.  It took her at least 10 minutes to believe that we were actually there and not just a hallucination caused by the pain killers she was on.  :)  We had a wonderful visit with her and her family before driving home in time for a late dinner with our men, who each felt they had been given a genuine gift of solitude by our absence.  It was just what those introverts needed about that time!

Bill Challener, with sons Douglas and Gregory, extended warm hospitality to us as we surprised Helen with a visit.

Besides our trip to Albany, we honored the “do nothing” decision, so our days were delightfully filled with wonderful “nothingness.”  Translated, that meant plenty of time for eating late and leisurely breakfast/brunches, playing games, hanging out and talking/laughing/enjoying one another, watching football, and singing around the piano (my personal favorite.)  At Gabe’s request, we had “lessons in hymnology” daily which was very, very sweet.  For the past three decades, the majority of post-modern churches  have replaced hymns with contemporary tunes, but it seems the pendulum may be swinging back towards the rich heritage of doctrinally sound theology expressed through many of the old hymns.  It shouldn't be an “either/or” but a “both/and,” since there are many theologically profound contemporary songs, but for our days together, we immersed ourselves in some of the great hymns of the faith.  Mixing the old with the new, Gabe pulled up a hymnal on his iPad and marked several hymns he plans to commit to memory.  :)

Brandon played and sang along with “GiGi” during our family hymn sings.

Before we knew it, New Year's was upon us.  We had a great “in-house” New Year’s Eve celebration, featuring a progressive dinner, table games, and an eggnog toast at midnight.  The real celebration came on New Year’s Day, when we headed down to Gillette Stadium to cheer our boys in red, white, and blue on to their 13th victory of the regular season.  At this point, we were thankful for the lack of snow and cold weather as we enjoyed the game in very balmy conditions.  After that great win, we joined the team families in the “tunnel” for dinner and then played a little football of our own on the post-game field.  It really doesn’t get any better than that.  :)  It was a perfect day.

Kara made sure we were well-taken care of at the game, making it a very happy memory for all.

Brandon runs towards the goal line while his teammates watch in wonder at his speed and agility.

That was the last big hurrah.  Brandon came down with a severe ear infection the following day and his misery had a mitigating affect on the carefree atmosphere of the  previous days.  We were so blessed by a family-friend/physician who provided care for him, and by the time they flew home on Thursday the 5th, he was much better.

As we continue the regrouping process, we are pretty much overwhelmed by God’s graciousness to us during this very special and unique time frame.  With Derek now back in Uganda (and blessing us by leaving his wife here to prepare for her physical therapy boards on Jan. 30), Lisa back at her now full-time position at JMU in Harrisonburg, VA, and the Garcias back in the saddle at their church in Sacramento; with mostly all vestiges of Christmas returned to the attic; with a happily full home reduced to a neat and mostly orderly space; with the sounds of animated conversations and lots of laughter replaced by echoes in the walls; we’re reminded again that relationships are what really matter.  This life lesson is reinforced each year as we celebrate the birth of Jesus, who came to facilitate relationships.

So, as this new year begins, we are feeling very full of what matters.  And that’s the wrap.