It’s a snowy day and I sit in front of our large breakfast nook window with my two children, watching the snowflakes stick to the trees like thick vanilla icing. It’s one of those cozy days where it feels good to not have to go anywhere, to just stay put and be present in the beautiful muffled silence of large, slowing falling snow. Inside, our table is alive with glitter and a rainbow of coloured popsicle sticks. Small hands slowly maneuver glue sticks and excitedly sprinkle silver and gold sparkles. We are talking about the spirit of giving during the holiday season.
Both of my girls hold expressions of great concentration as they create and build. They excitedly raise their completed masterpieces above their heads – wooden Christmas trees and reindeers to hang on our art wall. They ask if I think Santa’s reindeer would like their work and discuss how perhaps they should gift one of the wooden Christmas trees to our next-door neighbour and her friendly cat. My oldest adds, “then we would be practicing the spirit of giving right, mamma”? I kiss her sweet round cheek and nod. “That’s right” I say. “The spirit of giving is what Christmas is all about”.
As they arrange their creations for display, I rise and get my grandmother’s rolling pin from the pantry. At the same time, I tuck under my arm the binder of long-held family recipes my parents gifted to me. Inside are the Christmas cookie recipes made for me as a child. Today we start with sugar cookies. My girls grab their stepping stools and take their positions on opposite sides of me at the countertop.
Together we roll our buttery dough with the same heavy rolling pin my grandmother used to roll her own, perhaps as she too looked out over softly falling snow in her backyard. I let them lick their finger and dip it into the sugar bowl, and plop in front of them their own small mound of dough. I show them how to work the dough and roll it out. Just as my grandmother showed my mom and my mom showed me.
With Christmas music in the background and the glow of white lights from our Christmas tree casting shadows, I watch them work. In every fiber of my being I feel a pull to pass along to them what Christmas was and still is, to me. Christmas and all its beautiful nostalgia is so woven into me I can’t imagine not giving my children the same gift of tradition and love and connection to carry with them.
In my family, my grandmother was Christmas. I can still close my eyes and feel, as if it was only yesterday, the heat of her kitchen on Christmas eve and see the flush of her cheeks as she joyously moved from basting turkeys to kissing cheeks. She was the centre of an evening that our entire family, young and old alike, anticipated all year. The gifts under the tree, the mint green leaf candies in the candy bowl, the radio turned to the report of where Santa’s sleigh might be.
She was the thread of Christmas that held us tight from the beginning of December until the end. She taught us all that despite what is under the tree, the season is about connection, tradition, strength of family, love of your community, and lending a hand to anyone who needs one. It is about giving one’s self, having faith, breaking bread together, being completely present and soaking in all that is good and kind and gentle about ourselves, each other, and the path in which we all walk. I had 27 Christmases with her. Her message never wavered.
Each year when it was time to head home from her house on Christmas Eve, I would follow my dad into the strong smell of snow and chimney smoke, but pausing to look over my shoulder. Her house would be alive with warm light and the glow of her love. If I could time travel I would take my girls back to those moments.
I would sit them in the centre of it all. But I can’t and that is ok. But what I can do is thoughtfully and intentionally pass along, through my action and words, how Christmas was taught to me, so they too can come to know Christmas, not as a time to simply received, but to give and connect, to become still, to honour tradition, to cherish family, and to learn the spirit of giving.
With our Christmas cookies cooling on the counter top and my girls proud of their efforts, their conversation returns to their wooden Christmas trees and reindeer. They discuss which ones should be gifted to who, and how they can’t wait to share their cookies with grandpa. “He’ll like them the best, right momma”? I smile as I see their own connection to Christmas and to the concept of giving begin to take root and grow.
I know in these moments the spirit of my grandmother and her love of Christmas is close, and I also realize that I have what it take to plant small seeds of her Christmas spirit in the heart of my children, nourish those seeds lovingly within my own family and watch them grow.
Whatever your reason for celebrating this season, I wish you love, connection, stillness, and peace. From my family to yours – Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!