Friday, December 23, 2011

Peaces of Joy

A double meaning... "Pieces" of joy as well as [the] peaces of joy.  :) 

I keep up with the ex-boyfriend on facebook and he wrote a status a few weeks ago about how it isnt what he buys his daughter (who's Bobby and Maya's age), it's his love for her and the fact that, as she's growing up, she knows how much he loves her.  It was a sweet thing to say and something that I find oh so true.  Borrowing a bit from my friend Mrs. J., we instituted gift giving "rules" if we can call them that because it was important to Peter and I that our children grow up knowing that the holiday season isnt about how much someone spends or how much they get.  It isnt about expecting gifts or even about giving gifts in the traditional sense of the word.  It's not oh, we have to buy X, Y, and Z something.  Even pre-kids, it was bring a bottle of wine somewhere or you saw something that screamed out X's name and had to get it (and the holidays were your built in excuse) or you knew how much someone liked something you do, so you put together a gift of ingredients, etc.  With the exception of our parents, we never felt "obliged" to buy something (and I dont mean to imply that our parents/siblings were obligations, just that we always knew we'd find something 'perfect' for them).  Since becoming parents/aunts/uncles/godparents, we've definitely added to the buy-for list, again because there is a desire in our hearts to see the joy... Not because we have to spend, spend, spend.  As R so succinctly put it, our love will be there long after the excitement over the gift (or even the gift itself) lasts.  Isn't that really what's important? 

Which isnt to say our children arent spoiled by people; they are.  And we are grateful that so many people love them.  But as anyone who knows a grandparent (or excited aunt/uncle) knows, it helps to make things clear when you are raising your kids a certain way.  So, the 1 gift rule went into effect.  (And before you think I'm an ogre, we celebrate more than one holiday in the month, so these kids arent deprived, nor are their family deprived of picking out something 'perfect').  Starting on St. Nicholas's Day (Dec. 6), the kids leave out a shoe and St. Nick deposits a coin and piece of candy.  This year, I missed it, but I know that Peter enjoyed being with them.  (I was in Chicago, and he took that week off work).  He told them the story of St. Nicholas and they watched a 20 minute cartoon about his life and works.  And, he told them about our little saint, Nicholas, whose name day it was...  And then, there's Yule/Winter Solstice.  We celebrate the return of the sun with giving gifts to Nature (and by getting a winter themed gift in return!).  Their first solstice, they got snow suits; this year, gloves and hats and, for Bobby, a coat (because he desperately needed one, whereas Maya has 2 that fit).  As to gift giving, we sprinkle birdseed and drop cranberries on the ground for our outside friends.  And I can't tell you what it's like watching their faces as they sprinkle birdseed on the ground or sprinkle berries where the squirrels like to traverse.  And then, from the window as they watch 'brother bird' and 'sister squirrel' eating their "gifts!"  Maya especially shrieks with joy and poor Bobby ends up scaring them away by pounding on the window with excitement.  It's beautiful to watch.  We also trimmed some of our holly branches and decorated our Blessed Mother shrine.

Christmas Eve is my mother's birthday.  When I was growing up, we always got to open one gift on Christmas Eve.  And, nice enough, because Peter's maternal family is Puerto Rican and Christmas Eve was always such a big deal in his house, he remembers opening a gift on the Eve too!  So, the kids get a gift.  Since we go to Uita & Grandpa's house, it's fitting that the gift be at their place (and this year is a gift that will stay at their house for when the kids visit). 

And then, Christmas Day.  A gift from us, a gift from their twin, a gift from their siblings.  That's it.  Sure, they will get gifts from grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc, so there are more than those under the tree for them.  But we dont buy the store.  Growing up (and dont get me wrong, I loved it), you couldnt walk in our living room.  We were relatively poor, but my parents put in long hours and saved all year to get us whatever they could on Christmas.  I look back and remember the excitement and the glee... But very few of the actual presents.  (Bikes, I remember...  Oh, and my trenchcoat and fedora during my "Untouchables" phase!  Loved that year!) 

Three Kings Day/Epiphany (aka Little Christmas) the kids get three more gifts (one from each king).  Traditionally, I get them clothes.  Either three pieces or, if they are inexpensive (thank you, Kohl's!), three outfits.  We exchange gifts with godfamilies around this day and have our annual Epiphany gathering.    So, like I said, it isnt like we dont  do gifts.

But, when I look back over my own childhood, the things that stick out arent what I got or how late my poor dad stayed up putting together bikes and sneaking them into the house.  They are my memories...  Memories of making cookies with my mom.  Jimmy and I would stand on kitchen stairs (when we were little) so we could lean over the table my grandfather built and would either cookie cutter out cookies from dough my mom made or we would help drop drop-cookies onto the pan.  We'd wait like kids with ants in their pants who desperately needed to pee until that first batch came out so that we could test them for "Santa".  We'd eat pineapple dream cake that my Mamaw made every year for my Mom's birthday cake and discourse on why Christmas babies got shafted with gifts. :)  (It's true, isnt it Katie!).  My dad would start his long, slow, overnight cooking of ham.  We'd put out cookies and milk, and hang our stockings over the fire.  Eventually, we'd get sent to bed (but only after watching the news and hearing the weather man say that Santa's sleigh had been spotted over NYC and we'd all better get to be if we expected him to visit).  We'd pray for snow.  We'd finally pass out due to exaustion (but usually after we'd tried peeking into the living room (in our house, the LR was inbetween my brother's bedroom and mine).  Whoever woke up first would take the long way around the house and crawl into bed with the other and Jimmy and I would lay there for what felt like hours until we finally heard a parent up.  We'd wait in the kitchen (and the smell would be DIVINE) until both parents were up and we could tear into the living room.  I dont remember the presents, but I remember how I felt... How things smelled... How they felt.

I wonder what Bobby and Maya will remember.  Will it be the sprinkling of birdseed on the Solstice?  Me making batch after batch of cookies for our family's annual Christmas Eve cookie exchange?  Christmas Eve dinner and Mass?  7:30am Mass with Mommy cantoring on Christmas Day and our annual brunch afterwards? 

Will they remember baking brownies or cookies for the firemen, policemen, and EMTs and delivering them?  The looks on their faces?  Will they wonder why we do that?  How it started? 

We went to the farm store to pick up eggs and then to the supermarket to buy disposable pans for brownies.  We baked brownies and lovingly attached cards.  Thank you for all that you do for our community for our local men and woman, Thank you for all that you do for the community; even though we are no longer residents of Harleysville, we will never forget your service and kindness to our family in 2008 to the men and women of our old town.  6 batches...  And, because the post office staff were so kind when I bought 300 stamps (plus my half dozen internationals), we made a batch for them this year, and a batch for the funeral home (a few blocks from us) who handled the arrangements for Nicholas, Sophia, and Alexander).  People were so appreciative and kind; it was an early Christmas gift for me.

Will they remember going to the Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa, where their siblings and uncle have perpetual memorial candles in the candle chapel?  Will they remember going inside the chapel and lighting a special Christmas candle, asking the Blessed Mother to hold their siblings especially close on Christmas?  Walking to the creche with live animals afterwards?  Yesterday, we went.  The three of us held hands and I pointed out the candles from the window.  Then we went inside.  Maya put the candle donation in the bin and Bobby took a red candle.  Maya helped me light it and place it next to the icon of Our Lady.  Then, they both took to the kneeler.  Bobby stood, hands in prayer, looking at the icon, and started talking/praying.  (Only he, Maya, and the Virgin knew what he was saying, but it sounded prayerful to me :) )  Maya knelt (which she does in church) and was quiet, while Bobby spoke for all of us. 
When he was finished, she stood and took my hand, he stepped off the kneeler and took my hand, and we saw the candles for the kids and Robert one last time before walking to the Nativity set.  The kids were amazed by the animals and Maya began to identify the statues.  "Daddy Joe... Mama Mary..." and then stunned silence and pleading eyes.  "Jesus? Jesus?"

"Jesus wont be put in the manger until midnight on Christmas," I tell her.

"No Jesus?!?  No Jesus!?!" She obviously very upset that she cant see a baby Jesus in the manger.  One of the monks was standing off to the side as he walked by and I saw his lips curl up into a smile.  After I promised her again that Jesus would indeed make his way to the manger by the weekend, we walked over to a grotto area with a Virgin Mary statue, which Bobby wanted to touch her feet while Maya gave her a high five.  (I blame Aunt Sarah for this...)  Then, before going back to the car, we had to go so the JPII statue (if we dont, there is a complete meltdown... I tell you, he visited the kids in the womb and they know his face- they REFUSE to go to the car if they havent visited his area at the Shrine first.) 

Will they remember these winter visits to the Shrine?  The heat of the candles against the stark chill of the cold air? 

Peace... Joy...  Memories...  All wrapped up, a tight bow, binding.

It's this I hope for them.  Not billions of presents or dollars spent.  Not something that will break or accidently be thrown away.  But this...  The feelings... The warmth... The memories... The love.  Our love for them, their love for the world.

On this eve of the Eve, I wish it for you too...  Peace... Joy... and Love.  Lots and lots and lots of love, wrapped up in your memories and remembrances.


Joanna said...

That is so sweet - I'm thrilled that you practice the TRUE meaning of Christmas. It is about family, love and baby Jesus, not tonnes and tonnes of gifts. Merry Christmas!!

jenicini said...

I think I'm a little in love with your Christmas traditions. Part of me so yearns for this for my son. Since I grew up not celebrating Christmas, I don't have those things from my family. I'm trying to build things each year that we have Christmas now. Thanks so much for sharing. You just filled my heart with the spirit of Christmas.

trennia said...

Sorry I am late, Merry CHRISTmas!