Christmas Eve is my most anticipated day of the year. But this one will be different.
Our tradition has come to include an 865-mile trip to Pennsylvania to visit my family. Preparations for this annual adventure begin 10 days ahead as we carefully watch the weather map, looking for any chance of wintry precipitation that might wreak havoc on the drive. If we see something coming, we can get a head start and race the nastiness to the East Coast.
For my daughter and I, packing begins a couple of days in advance. We carefully select our wardrobes, pack gifts, check everything twice and make certain that each utensil in our bathrooms is packed as tightly as possible into the biggest bag we can find. Not that it matters. Inevitably, we will both forget something.
The boys are much easier. In fact, it takes them all of 10 minutes to pack for a week. Iíve been watching them for years, but I still donít understand this phenomenon. How do they do that?
Because the trip takes 14 to 16 hours to drive, my husband and I turn in as early as possible so that 3 in the morning doesnít sneak up on us. I donít know who I think Iím kidding when I hit the bed, though. I lay there pondering everything I have packed, how long it is going to take us to get there, where we should stop for meals and anticipating the first hug of the season from my parents. I really love that feeling.
In the middle of the night, we pack up the kids and the dogs and begin our journey. Family awaits.
Following tradition, my parents greet us with big hugs and pizza. It is a long trip but those hugs make it worth every mile. For me, being ďhomeĒ for Christmas is a mini-miracle that brings overwhelming feelings of peace and joy to my heart. The first hug from each parent, all three brothers, my favorite sister-in-law and three beautiful nieces, as well as the family pooch, Molly, allows me to feel the warmth of ďfamilyĒ that I miss throughout the rest of the year.
Christmas Eve brings with it tradition that, for me, resembles a Norman Rockwell painting.
Everyone arrives around noon to begin the festivities. We start with a craft that all of the kids contribute to. We paint ornaments, make keepsakes for Grandma and always create a special dessert. It is the epitome of family bonding.
My husband and father make their annual trip to choose the filet that will later find its way to grill and then onto a table set for 16.
After dinner, we gather in the living room around the tree to share gifts and spirits. There is always at least one joker in the group who provides the funniest gift of the evening. Iím thankful for the sense of humor that seems to have found its way through my family.
Once the gifts have been opened and put in their place, we make our way to the family farm where my eldest brother has meticulously cared for the cabin that has been in the family for decades.
It is the most elaborately stunning site on earth when freshly fallen snow lays quietly on the ground surrounding the ponds that lead to the cabin. The light of the moon gently twinkles like diamonds on the surface as we carefully make our way to the entrance.
As we gather inside, the atmosphere brings with it a real meaning of Christmas. Family gathered in one room, smiling, laughing, telling stories, hugging, singing; simply, yet complexly, enjoying the company of loved ones.
My father exudes a sense of authority that allows me to feel more comfortable than at any other time or place. When I am with him and my husband in the same room, I know that no person or thing can bring harm to any of us. It may not be reality, but it is my reality, if only for a week.
We will not be able to participate in these activities this year for a number of reasons. Although I have been cleared by my doctor to travel after extensive back surgery, life is taking place. And sometimes life stands in the way.
This year, we will celebrate the birth of Christ in our own home. We will make new memories as we discuss the meaning of the day, laugh, hug, love and enjoy the privilege of life that has been bestowed upon us by our creator.
It will be different, no doubt. But Christmas is more than where we are or who we are with. It is the reflection of a loving God, who provided the life of a child who would forever change our hearts and save our souls.
I will look to Him for that peaceful feeling this year and I hope you will, too.
Merry Christmas, wherever you are. Have a blessed week!