By Janiel Nelson
The following reflections have been submitted by faculty members in the Department of Home and Family at Brigham Young University - Idaho.
Home...where families gather for holiday feasting and frenzy. The atmosphere tingles with excitement, the fragrance of memorable delicacies tempt our taste buds. Familiar decorations are intentionally placed in their respective spots. We count on them being there. We see and hear common sights and sounds. We've come home.
Home is where we have a holiday meal with the family; love, sharing, conversation, togetherness - family. There's a feeling of familiarity and friendship when you meet others coming and going in the kitchen as you make sandwiches and reheat gravy. Leftovers extend the feelings of belonging and the tradition of connecting with those you love.
I remember as a child the annual arrival of the Christmas tree as an enormously important event. This was the signal event of the Christmas season. The entry of the tree into the house marked the beginning of the Christmas music, the decorations, and the overall excitement of Christmas. It was a day I anticipated almost as much as Christmas Day; and one I remember fondly.
Today I saw pine trees leaning against the fence of a Christmas tree lot. I instantly felt a mixture of joy and sadness. The joy comes from having a tree in the house that delights the visual and olfactory senses. The sadness comes because I no longer get to pack the children up and go looking for a tree on public land. While the memories of cutting our own tree are fond memories, I'm sad that I'm not anticipating that activity this year.
I recall sitting on the sofa as a small child, gazing at my own reflection in the ornaments on the Christmas tree. I smiled a cheesy grin, stuck my tongue out, and wrinkled my nose. The image I saw was upside down. Ironically, it gave me a sense of safety, security, constancy. I belonged.
Look. There's the ornament I made for Mom and Dad in 1st grade, my picture (no teeth, of course), glued to the top of an orange juice lid, with a piece of ribbon carefully looped and glued at the back. I had wiped glue on my clothes and teacher helped me clean it off. It looks just like it did the day I brought it home. It has been carefully wrapped and stored each year, only to be taken out and proudly displayed every Christmas.
My new marriage has brought many opportunities, one of which is a mixture of traditions; some familiar to him, some familiar to me. This mixture contains objects, songs, flavors, events, people and other deeply emotional aspects close to each person, but not equally important. In an effort to start a new tradition, I decided to decorate the Christmas tree on Thanksgiving Day. My purpose was to have our children help to select their favorite decorations from both of our collections. What resulted was amazing: a tree with two collections of ornaments holding special meaning for everyone. Watching our children work together to create a beautiful tree was very touching and will continue to be one of my favorite new holiday traditions. We're a family.
A past memory floods into the present. While living on the East coast a few years ago, it was my children who taught me the meaning of this holiday season. On a windy, cold, wintry night, while traveling home in the van after an enjoyable evening with friends, our family stopped at a stoplight. While waiting for a green light, there on the side of the road was a homeless man holding a sign indicating need for food and blankets. After my children expressed a desire to help, rationalizations flooded my mind with reasons for continuing on our course for home without providing assistance. My children persisted with eager anticipation. As I drove through the green light in a comfortable, warm van on that freezing cold night, I felt a sense of ingratitude-ingratitude for my reluctance to reach out and give. As I thought about the ingratitude, I realized that my children were right-the homeless man was truly in need of assistance. As I helped my children stuff a box full of food and warm blankets for the homeless man, the feeling of ingratitude was replaced with love and a desire to reach out and provide assistance to others. That is what the holidays are all about-giving.
My mind drifts back to the present, bringing with it the sights, smells, and sounds of memories past. I think of the peaceful feeling associated with a world covered in new fallen snow. I think of the smell and taste of "jerky" because Christmas was the only time each year that my parents would buy it. I think of singing Christmas carols as a family on Christmas Eve as we held a special family night and recounted the birth of the Christ child. I think of decorating sugar cookies and my mother baking banana bread to take around to the neighbors. I think of ringing sleigh bells just before dawn signaling that Santa had come and gone.
I was a gullible child. I, along with my eight siblings, allowed our older brother to talk us into staying up to wait for Santa. We crawled head first behind the sofa and waited, on our knees, for him to arrive. It was hours later when bruising and fatigue set in and we decided it was better to retire for the evening. It wasn't until years later that I realized even if we had waited up for Santa, the only one of us who could have seen him was our older brother. The rest of us only had a view of the sibling's rear end in front of us!
All is quiet now. There is something wonderful about the silence of a late Christmas Eve--very early Christmas morning--when Santa has come, the gifts are wrapped, everyone is in bed asleep, the fire is warm, and snow is falling outside the window. It is magical silence, a perfect time to think about what is truly important in the world...home and family.
Janiel Nelson is a faculty member in the Department of Home and Family Education at Brigham Young University- Idaho.