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Elizabeth Cook: Ready for Christmas? Me neither

Finally, the tree is up — still unadorned, but at least it is in the house.

Some years Christmas takes hold slowly. This is one of them.

When small children ruled the roost, the season held our family in its embrace for weeks, from the time they saw Santa at the end of the Holiday Caravan until the last piece of wrapping paper hit the recycling bin. School Christmas programs and church nativity re-enactments helped set the tone.

We wore elaborate Christmas sweaters before they became passé, and even after. In a household with three girls, red hair bows seemed to both proliferate and mysteriously disappear. There was always a Christmas dress for each girl, to be worn on Christmas Eve or thereabouts. Velvet was big. And on Christmas morning children who seemed unable to open their eyes before 7 a.m. on most days suddenly sprang into action well before the sun came up.

It’s all about motivation.

Lately, we adults are the ones who need nudging in the motivation department.

Other commitments and work and out-of-town trips kept pushing the usual holiday preparations back and back and back some more. By the time we were ready for a tree, the selection was fairly depleted.

Did we start too late?

That happens more and more often these days. I see us inching toward the day when a Christmas tree will be more bother than it’s worth — or closer to letting the kids do the honors.

It’s all part of my secret plan. Shhh! Don’t tell them.

The magic of the Christmas season for me springs from reminiscing about Christmases past.

Dinner at Grandmother’s house always comes to mind first, with gleaming silver, rollicking cousins and mashed sweet potatoes served in orange skins, with a clove on top. The adults were clearly worn out. I remember the time my aunt fell asleep sitting up, exhausted by the extended family celebrations — Christmas Eve at her house, Christmas breakfast at our farm, and dinner at Grandmother and Granddaddy’s house on the hill.

Staying awake in church on Christmas Eve was tough after full meal at Aunt Bev’s. Somehow the adults harnessed the excitement of all the children long enough for us to gobble down our food and take off again.

At least that’s my memory of what we cousins did — ate fast, asked to be excused, took the obligatory additional bites of some green vegetable, now unappetizingly cold, and asked again for permission to leave the table.

Where were we in such a hurry to go? Anywhere but sitting down. Often our destination was the basement, where we planned musical productions to present to the adults. Sometimes. Mostly we amused ourselves.

Later, I remember struggling as a teenager to keep my eyes open at the late night church service. Was it really held at midnight? The candlelight glowed. And there’s something special about singing beside two sisters whose voices sound much like your own — not great, but good enough to sing a round of “O Come, All Ye Faithful” that is forever stuck in my mind.

One of those sisters is gone now, and a my sweet mother-in-law, too — hard losses to face during a holiday so centered on family. Time together is more precious than we realized. But we know there are more special moments to come.

Memories are interwoven with Christmas because we felt things so intensely all those years ago, when we were children. Christmas was more than a long to-do list and a day or two off work (and tips for avoiding extra holiday pounds). It was Christmas, the end-all and be-all, the thing we looked forward to all year long.

Was that just because of childish greed, knowing we were about to get a bunch of presents, with a long break from school as a bonus?

Later it’s the memories we make with our own children that warm the heart toward Christmas again. The year Emily was a young docent at the Hall House, explaining why a 19th-century Christmas tree would have a pickle ornament. Mary’s mugging for the camera on Christmas morning wearing a silly hat. And Ginny riding down the driveway in her pink Barbie car, arms flung out to show her daring. Look, no hands!

I wish I had kept a journal of the girls’ growing up years. So many special moments have faded beyond memory. And what I do remember, I mostly reconstructed from photographs instead of actual memory.

That’s allowed, isn’t it?

How do we connect all this giving and getting and reminiscing to the birth of the Christ child? Well, Christmas is a celebration, after all. We celebrate at church through worship and song. If the festivities are supposed to end there, I didn’t get the memo.

So, it’s back to the tree now, with the untangling of the Christmas lights and unpacking of the ornaments — Amy Grant singing in the background.

Have yourself a merry little Christmas. It’s not too late to start.

Elizabeth Cook is editor of the Salisbury Post. Contact her at 704-797-4244 or editor@salisburypost.com.

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