My Christmas Mother

My husband opened the half-gallon of fruit punch and poured out its contents – fully two thirds of the bottle - down the drain. He then picked up a jug of cranberry juice, just as large and full as the fruit punch, and muttered as he poured.

“We waste so much stuff during the holidays.”

Glug, glug, glug.

He was right. We do waste so much, especially at Christmas. Juice, money, patience, time  – glug, glug, down the drains of gulping minutes.

How does it happen? Beginning December 26, we have a whole year to prepare for Christmas. Yet, around the first or second week of December I panic. Christmas is just a week away? No matter how much planning, preparation, or lists, there is no way I can get it all in. There is just no time left.

That is the reality – time – and it is not ours to waste. Wrapping paper strewn all over the kitchen table, a list of gifts still to buy, cookies in the oven, Christmas cards still in boxes, and suddenly God may call me Home. I should know that by now.

My Mother was prepared for Christmas twelve years ago when a heart attack left her preparations behind – wrapped, sparking, and smelling like fresh-baked monster cookies. My three brothers and sister, our spouses, and kids were stunned when she died so unexpectedly, just three days before Christmas. How could we enjoy Christmas again without our “Christmas Mother”?

Actually, Mom drove me crazy. Her tree would be up the day after Thanksgiving, completely decorated with miniature teddy bears, Christmas mice, and stuffed wild animals, all with smiles and friendly beaded eyes. Underneath the tree, sitting on an elaborately decorated tree skirt sequined with Santa in his sleigh with his reindeer flying above house tops stitched along the deep red velvet fabric were musical toys ready to entertain with the twist of their knobs. Then out came the Santa Clauses, hundreds of them to be displayed, ever so merry on shelves, window sills, even on the back of her toilets. The next week al of her Christmas cards would be mailed, signed and delivered.

“What have you been doing?” she would ask me when I wailed about everything still to do.

“Baking cookies,” I lied. That I was scrambling around town searching for requested gifts and my surprise ones, going to children’s Christmas programs, squeezing in exercise classes, and writing lists late into the night, she would never understand.

Her shopping was done in July. After that she shuffled through bazaars, outlets, and markets looking for special gifts that said, “I thought of you when I saw this.”

In December, as I checked off “Priority” to “Maybe” on my To-Do lists, Mom attended holiday luncheons, drove through gardens of lights, and brought cookies and gifts to friends. She wore a different Christmas sweater every day.

Decades later, I don’t understand why I was so behind, and I confess, I still get a bit frazzled during the holidays. I clearly remember the years that crumbled into the week before Christmas and those seven days of frantic decorating, shopping, wrapping and snapping at EVERYONE. My mother was never grumpy in December, only just a little sarcastic and blunt now and then, but that was Mom. My mother lived the true meaning of Christmas all year long.

On December 17, 2002, propped up on pillows in bed in Mom’s spare bedroom, I wrote in my journal:

“ I am at my mother’s this chilly morning. My cup of coffee is next to me on the bedside table while I revel in the quiet, where I can hear my thoughts. Mom’s house is a joyful display of the magic and fun of Christmas. She bubbles this time of year and makes her home burst with her Christmas toys. The only spiritual things she has are her five LLADRO angels and Mary and Joseph together holding their Baby. She already told me she would give Christie the Joseph and Mary figurines, but I love those angels and would choose them above anything else. One can almost hear them singing! Mom has Santa Clauses of every type in every space and place throughout her house. I wish my girls and grandchildren could see them all! I wonder how it is that from so much anger, sadness, and even selfishness, she has transformed her whole being into a childlike Christmas Spirit? In a way, this is how we, too, should live all year for this Holy Season – preparing, planning, and joyfully anticipating the gifts of Christmas - our very nature celebrating the birth of our Savior and His gift to mankind. My mother goes about the year with that anticipation, and her joy culminates during the holidays. From her heart she loves to see the delight received from all of her gift giving – and she never stops looking for the perfect gift for the people she loves. It is fun to behold how she believes.”

Those were the last words I had written in my journal before my mother died. Five days later, our families visited her empty house. We were dumbstruck by the Spirit of Christmas still vibrantly twinkling and sparkling from her tree, decorations, and those Santa Clauses. I believe the angels were even singing her favorite Christmas carols!

My mother lived intentionally. Her eyes were always on Christmas, no matter what time of year it was. After she left us to go and decorate her Mansion in Heaven, our family sat around our decorated trees on Christmas morning and unwrapped the gifts she had so lovingly chosen and wrapped.  Not only had Mom left the “perfect gift” for each one of us, but each one was the last to remind us of how she had wanted to best express her love.

Joy and gladness are an outward expression of love. This is how my mother celebrated and shared Christ’s Love. She never wasted a moment or opportunity to give some sort of gift. After all, that’s what Christmas is about. Without undo preparation or wasted time, the true Gift of Christmas is within us every day of the year!

“Adoration is that welling up of the whole being in Love’s wonder-praise to Me.” – A. J. Russell