This year (2014), for the first time ever, the Church family Christmas was celebrated at 62 Yellow Barn Road in Dryden, New York, my parents’ new home. For the thirty-nine years before this one, almost every Church family Christmas had been celebrated at their previous home–which for many of those years, of course, had been our family’s home–in nearby Groton. With the exception of a few Christmases when we were all younger that we celebrated with my mother’s parents at their home in Florida, and a few other Christmases when circumstances prevented all of us from being together anywhere (i.e., occasions when some of us were either out of the country, or more recently, celebrating with in-laws), our family Christmases were spent in our childhood home, the 1868 farmhouse on the corner of Lick Street and the Peruville-McLean Road.
But not this year. And, presumably, never again.
“Were any of the kids upset with the ‘new Christmas’ this year?” I overheard someone ask my dad at church the following Sunday. Her question captured the feelings of displacement, of unsettled-ness, of not-quite-right-ness easily imaginable given the circumstances of the Church family Christmas this year. It would have been perfectly understandable had any of the following utterances been heard coming from my brother, or my sister, or myself:
“What do you mean the kids won’t be running down the staircase Christmas morning [or if they could get away with it, sliding down the curved banister!]??”
[Turns out they had to run up the stairs from the basement this year!]
“Christmas breakfast won’t be the same without the steamy heat of the wood stove at our backs.”
[Turns out the 1968 ranch-style house is nowhere near as drafty as the 1868 farmhouse, and stays pretty toasty everywhere!]
“You mean Stephen [my now-42-year-old “little brother”!] won’t be jumping up from the old dining room table, generously offering to help clear the dishes as soon as the last person has taken the last bite of his or her breakfast, with that eagerness that we only saw once a year for so many years, an enthusiasm prompted by the knowledge that the opening of the presents would only get started once the clearing of the table had been completed??”
[Turns out the old dining room table is now in the new dining room, and while my brother remains quite helpful in the post-Christmas-breakfast/pre-gift-unwrapping ritualistic clearing of the table, he seems to have passed the torch of eager helpfulness on to his son, niece, and nephews!]
Any of those statements, as well as a host of others, could justifiably have come from my sister, my brother, or myself, right? After so many Christmases “at home,” an absence of such sentiments would have almost seemed more surprising….
And yet…there were none. I was not aware of a single complaint, a single yearning, a single comment in this vein from anyone, not from my siblings (or myself), not from my parents, not from any of our kids. I don’t know what my dad said in response to the above-mentioned question at church, but it did not seem to me that any of us, regardless of age or number of Christmases spent in “the old house,” were upset with this year’s “new Christmas.”
My hunch is that that’s because it wasn’t really a “new Christmas.” It was the same old Christmas, just in a new house.
We still had to clear the table (following our traditional special Christmas breakfast) before opening the presents.
We still took turns opening gifts, proceeding one at a time, paying attention so we knew who got what and (most of the time!) from whom.
We still tried to open the bigger gifts (i.e., those wrapped with the bigger pieces of wrapping paper!) carefully so that those pieces of paper might be refolded and tucked away for use at the next Church family Christmas.
We still “encouraged” (i.e., good-naturedly bullied!) one another try on–and often times leave on!–any article of clothing received, generally right over the clothes being worn (an especially entertaining tradition when the gift received is Christmas boxers, given to my brother-in-law, from my mother!).
And we still, as has happened on every other Church family Christmas in my memory, when all was said and done, were in unanimous agreement that there had been far too many gifts and that we would surely do it differently next year!
The traditions were there. The smiles and laughter were there. The generosity and thoughtfulness were there. The love was there. It was still the Church family Christmas!
We were together–doing life together and enjoying being together. Throw in some Christmas music, some good food, and a few presents, and what’s not to like?? A new house is a small thing to change in comparison to the big things that have stayed the same, the things that really matter.
It was a new house. It is a new house. But it was still the Church family Christmas, and it was Good.
Thanks be to God!
…And may God bless my parents as they recover from this year’s Church family Christmas in their new and still not-really-settled-into house!! 🙂