Written by Chelsea Rose Moore | Photos by Yetta Reid Photography
It felt like we’d been waiting forever, but the most magical time of year was finally here. We wrote and then rewrote our Christmas lists, decorated our house with greenery, and displayed our nativities in eager anticipation of the season.
Under the tree, the presents were wrapped in festive paper, waiting to be opened on Christmas Eve. As the days drew closer to Christmas, I would secretly shake the gifts with my name on them, hoping it would reveal the contents inside.
In my family, Christmas Eve was spent at my grandparents’ home. My cousins, aunt and uncle, parents and siblings would gather to celebrate the holiday together. As the adults caught up, the kids discussed the very important matter of gifts. What did we each want most for Christmas? And what was the likelihood of receiving it?
My grandparents had an open door policy for their friends and neighbors. The same faces often visited each holiday: the forever friends who had walked through the ups and downs of life with them, the neighbors who popped in to say hello, the blind friend who always brought gifts for us kids. Sometimes there were surprises when someone who had never come for Christmas before stopped by, and they were always warmly welcomed. The visitors never stayed for our full festivities. They came for dinner or stopped in to say “Merry Christmas!” on their way to celebrate with their own families. Somehow, no matter how many people dropped by, there was always enough food.
In the kitchen, my grandmother, mother and aunt filled bowls with mashed potatoes and trays with appetizers, setting them on the table as they were ready. My grandmother always cooked the bird. The selection of food changed each year, but there was always a bowl filled with green olives, and for some reason, it was one of the things I looked forward to most.
As the sky darkened and the tree lights sparkled, we came together in the living room, our chairs making a circle around the room. My grandfather read the story of Jesus’s birth from the Book of Luke and then read us “The Night Before Christmas” in the most dramatic of ways. His voice echoed through the house as he shouted the last line: “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”
My grandfather was in charge of the gift distribution. We were not allowed to pick which presents we would open; he always chose for us. He would hand us a present, and we could not complain or ask to open a different gift first. It would break his rule, and therefore, break tradition.
There were always surprises on Christmas Eve. There were gifts we hadn’t expected to receive that we were overjoyed to open. There were the disappointments of things we desperately wanted but didn’t receive. There was playful banter between the adults, my grandfather’s jokes, and laughter from us all. There were carols and late-night snacks and hugs between family members. And there was always Christmas magic.
At the end of the night, we dressed in our Christmas pajamas, sleepy and dreamy-eyed. My dad loaded our gifts into the back of the car, and we drove home and went to bed without complaining, because tomorrow was Christmas Day. Now, a few decades later, as a mother to my own children, there’s a lot that’s different about Christmas for me. But one thing is the same: Christmas is still the most magical time of year.
My hope is for the holiday season to be as magical for my children as it was for me. But it’s not a hard goal. All it takes for some Christmas magic is festive pajamas, hot cocoa and a holiday movie next to the tree. I weave my favorite childhood traditions into December: baking Christmas cookies, cutting down a tree, collecting a new ornament each year, and counting down the days in December with an advent calendar.
What I love most about December is all of the stories it holds. The stories give our traditions meaning, offering us reason to keep doing them and passing them on to the next generation. Christmas conjures stories of relatives who are no longer here on earth, and the holiday smells and songs somehow make them feel a little closer. It’s like a gift I hold for myself: the memory of their smiles, their laughter, and their love that glowed all the brighter at Christmastime.
There are the stories of my childhood self. I see myself hanging ornaments on the tree with my brothers as we listened to my parents tell us the story behind each one. I see myself making homemade gifts for grandparents, using a glue stick and construction paper. I see our holiday photos being taken for our Christmas card, with my mom trying hard to get five children to look at the camera and smile at the same time. When I close my eyes, it almost feels like I’m there again.
Today, participating in these same traditions makes me feel like a child again. I watch my preschooler make homemade cards to mail to family members and give to the essential workers who faithfully served us all year. It reminds me of the holiday crafts and cards I made as a child. I teach my daughters Christmas carols, remembering the carols sung with my family as we visited nursing homes.
We decorate our home with nutcrackers and listen to Tchaikovsky’s famous ballet, reminding me how no childhood Christmas was complete until we had seen the ballet performed. I hang up a special advent calendar filled with cards to direct our holiday activities and give us ideas for service oriented opportunities. Watching my daughters’ excitement reminds me of my own anticipation as my brothers and I counted down the days until Christmas. Seeing the magic reflected in my children’s eyes makes the season more meaningful for me.
As an adult at Christmas, it’s easy to be weighed down by the stresses of life. We can make Christmas lose some of its brightness, this year perhaps more than others. But it’s deeply important to pause and let Christmas still be Christmas. We can give ourselves the opportunity to see Christmas through a child’s eye again, even if it’s our own inner child. We can even find healing in it.
When the world feels like it’s falling apart, Christmas is here to remind us that “all is calm and all is bright” in our hearts and homes. And that is all the Christmas magic I could ask for. ML
Published in the December 2020 issue of Middleburg Life. Photos are of Chelsea Moore’s oldest daughter, Amelia Moore, celebrating the Christmas season. Taken by Yetta Reid Photography.