Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Our family got Christmas right this year

I think most people have mixed feelings about the holidays. While we all crave the promise of family togetherness and happy times, it often feels like our expectations are too high and we head into January a little disappointed.

Or is that just my family?

Every year around October the e-mails and texts between my siblings begin. What do you guys want to do for Thanksgiving this year? Did you want to try to get together for Christmas? One would think we could just come up with a consistent plan each year and stick with it, but somehow we always end up reinventing the wheel. 

Anyway, this year my sister Laura came up with yet another take on wheeled transport: A Family Gingerbread House Making Party.

She said she wanted to do something that focused on the kids and included her favorite holiday traditions: stories, singing, edible structures and tasty food.

So on Saturday, we recruited my neighbors to watch the dog and packed the girls up in the car to make the trek down to Virginia to Laura's house.

And after a day spent watching my girls play with their cousins, helping my nephews construct a gingerbread masterpiece, gabbing with my sisters and soaking in the stuff that makes me ache for my family the rest of the year -- maybe we're finally on to something.

My beautiful niece Hannah and her
adorable friend Katie pose
under Laura's beautious archway.
There was wonderfully cheesy and starchy snackage (including cream puffs! God bless them every one!). 

There were 9 kids (well four of who are teenagers and would probably not be very  appreciative of being called kids), three toddlers, two babies and a chihuahua, all running amok in a glorious throng (OK, the teenagers weren't giddy or pack like -- ditto for the babies -- but the rest ran amok in a glorious throng.)

The house was festooned in an array of holiday decor -- snowflakes hung from the ceilings, the kitchen cabinets were wrapped in red bows and stockings hung from the mantel (I would also be remiss to mention the incredible glowing archway Laura constructed, pictured at right. It's a pretty amazing, right? 

There was caroling. (Sure, several of the men and boy-folk might have disappeared into the living room during this portion of the program, but the rest of us sang like no one was listening.) It was the first time in years -- probably since I was a teenager -- that I'd heard my parents singing Christmas carols. It was like being 8 years old again at Mass on Christmas morning -- well, minus the near-painful wait as Father O'Brien delivered a long and tedious homily about how it's nice that Jesus was born, but we're all more than likely going to hell. Merry Christmas to you, too. Music has always been one of my favorite parts of Christmas and getting it back for a night was a gift.

But the highlight of the day was when my dad pulled up a cooler and read Christmas stories to us while we decorated our houses or fed our babies pureed green beans. 

Lily, center, provides some not-so-subtle percussion
by banging her feet on her makeshift bench during Papa's reading.
Dad read a couple stories from "Christmas In My Heart" -- that dealt with faith and giving. I've always enjoyed being read to -- especially by someone who is a good reader, which my dad is. He has a nice deep voice and reads with subtle emotion and good pacing, it's calming to listen to him, and like the singing, made me feel like a kid again.

Dad used to sit on the steps between my room and my sister Sarah's every night and read to us. He read us "Little House on the Prairie" and "The Chronicles of Narnia" among others -- laying the groundwork for my lifelong love of storytelling. 

Mom's a great storyteller, too. And patient. I'm pretty sure I forced her to read giant stacks of library books to me over and over again (not unlike Lily. Karma.). 

Anyway, I'm going to wrap this up kind of abruptly. "Parenthood" is on and it's not looking good for Christine and I'll probably be a blubbering mess within the next half hour or so. 

The moral of this story is read to your kids. It's a gift that they'll cherish their entire life. 

Also, eat more cream puffs. 

(Photos courtesy of my lovely sister Laura)

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