My family who gathers around the Christmas tree each year has grown exponentially as each child has left home and married. And, much like my childhood Christmases, the chaos of the gift opening has increased exponentially, as well. Our traditions begin with attending the church's beautiful Christmas Eve candlelight service. The golden flicker of the candles in the darkened sanctuary as the congregants sing "Silent Night" always leaves me with a warm glow of Christmas spirit. Exiting the church, that warmth overcomes the coldest of nights, as we drive home for a family meal and gift exchange with my husband's family.
The joy of family warms my heart as I listen to the laughter and reminiscing of the cousins, close in age, and close in family ties. Their noisy chatter escalates with the same level of their laughter as we play "dirty Santa". As one gift is opened, someone else decides that's the very gift he wanted, and takes it from the original owner, forcing that person to open another one, and the game continues. Never do we spend much money on these gifts, and very little thought is put into puchasing them, since we don't know who will end up with each present.
The grandchildren are sent to bed, and after everyone leaves for the night, we follow suit. Of course, sleep eludes me as I mentally check off the following day's tasks of meal preparation, stocking stuffing, and doublechecking my own list. Did I wrap all the presents? Are any of them still in their hiding places? I don't want anyone to feel forgotten as he watches everyone else but him opening a gift because I didn't complete my list!
Christmas morning comes early as the youngest grandson wakens by 5:00, his normal morning routine. Of course, no one can convince this rambunctious two-year-old to return to bed when he is alert and ready for his day. That means the rest of us wake, as well, some pretending sleep longer than others. After breakfast, usually a simple one, the Christmas meal preparation begins while the mamas entertain their young ones. Of course, the most frequent question is 'When are we going to open the presents?' and the anticipation causes the overly-excited youngsters more than a little consternation to wait until after dinner.
With experience, I have managed to slow this gift exchange from the chaotic tearing of wrapping paper by everyone at the same time to a more calm youngest-to-oldest strategy. This allows all of us to see each gift, and it allows the recipient the opportunity to acknowledge the giver. But by this time, I am left wondering, do these children even know why they are receiving gifts? Will they, as they get a little older, come to expect more and bigger gifts, just because it is Christmas?
The warm glow of the Christ child from the previous night's service seems to have disappeared, only to be replaced by a different glow, that of family. And I truly appreciate that joy and happiness; yet, I feel something missing. That is why this year I plan to start a new tradition which I am borrowing from an object lesson my minister told us about during the Advent season.
Beneath the tree will be a large, beautifully wrapped gift, more exquisite than any of the others. Before any gifts are handed out, we will take turns guessing who the gift is for, and what do you think could be in such an exquisite package? Then I will have the oldest grandchildren carefully unwrap the box, only to find that it is empty. Why an empty box, you ask? Isn't this a mean trick to play on everyone? Not at all! Because the object lesson will include a discussion about the most meaningful gifts of all, things that cannot be boxed and wrapped. The truest gifts include acts of love, kindness, forgiveness, sharing of ourselves, hope, faith, peace...and light - the light of the Christchild who was born to save us all. The Christchild, the smallest of babies yet most powerful of kings, provides all of these gifts to us through His grace. All we have to do is accept them and use them for His purpose.
Will my young grandchildren understand this lesson? Maybe not yet. But I think as the years pass, the tradition of presenting an object lesson before the actual gift exchange will eliminate the chaos and put us all in the proper frame of mind, that of celebrating the birth of our Savior.