When I was a little girl growing up in small towns in the Midwest every year at Christmas time my maternal grandparents, along with other family relatives, mailed to us large boxes filled with gifts for the entire family, gifts that had to take the place of our loved ones who lived so far away. My maternal grandparent’s box was the one most cherished. Grandma would knit warm socks for us, make flannel pajamas and woolen hats for the snow. She would bake Christmas cookies and place them carefully in tin boxes. Other wrapped presents were tucked in here and there, one for each member of the family. The best gift was a letter telling us how much we were loved and missed. Once having arrived the presents were all gathered together and hidden on the top shelf of my parent’s closet. Whenever our parents went to town to buy groceries, my siblings and I snuck into their bedroom, furtively opened the closet door and four pairs of eyes gazed with wonder at all the presents stacked on the shelf. Then, I would climb on my brother’s shoulders and reach up to take each gift down to hand to my other siblings. With excitement we shook each present, looked to see whose name was on the tag and who the sender was as we tried to guess its contents. My oldest brother was look-out running back and forth to the living room window to make sure our parents weren’t heading into the driveway. We stayed enchanted for the hour or so it took them to finish shopping. When my parents returned, their arms loaded with groceries, all four of us were innocently reading on the front sofa, our heads down and staring at our pages less we break into fits of giggling.
Today, our country is besieged with COVID-19 and our annual trip to California to stay with our son and his family, and then spending one day at a large Christmas gathering with all of our huge family (more than 40) will not be forthcoming. We always spend all of Christmas day with our son and his family which include our five-year-old great-grandson. All of the family gatherings have always been fun-filled with lots of presents to open, lots of hugs and shared experiences. We’re a close-knit family and it is always my happiest time of the year.
This year it was not to be. We live in the country in Arizona, and California is too dangerous right now. Traveling there would put my husband, Tom and I at great risk. We will be alone on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. There were no presents under our tree. I tried not to think of decades of being with my family at this time and all the beautifully wrapped gifts under the tree, decades that traveled from my children down to my grandchildren and now to my great-grandchildren. Decades with love and warmth and sharing and mostly lots of hugs. And now, Christmas without them. It was hard to bear.
Then came yesterday. Yesterday, a large cardboard box arrived in the mail. I dragged it into the house and called Tom over. It was from our son, Michael. I opened the box. Inside, nestled in bubble wrappers were presents. There were gifts from our son and his wife, from our granddaughter and from our grandson, his wife and our five-year-old great-grandson. There was even a Christmas drawing made by our little five-year-old saying ‘Ho Ho Ho’ and most cherished of all, a beautifully worded card saying how much we will be missed and how much they loved us. I felt tears sting my eyes as my memory flashed back to all the Christmases of my childhood, of my siblings and I watching our parents open boxes before assigning them to their hiding place in the bedroom closet. I thought of how, once upon a time, it was my grandparents who brought me love at Christmas time and how now that we are grandparents it is our children and grandchildren who have brought us love at Christmas time.
Tonight, thanks to Michael and his family, there is now a pile of gifts under our tree. Tonight, I am filled with gratitude to our son and his family who so kindly remembered how alone we were going to be, how there would be no gift giving, no shared love, no shared memories with our family.
Tonight, I am thinking of the first Christmas gifts, gifts of the Magi and how they managed to find their way, following a star, to a stable in Bethlehem so that they too could gift gifts to someone they loved. And I am filled with joy and appreciation for my blessings and my hope for a future where we are all free of COVID-19.
Merry, Merry Christmas to everyone. May next year bring faith and hope for new beginnings. Stay safe!