Bridges for the river of time

Country Roads

My sentimental feelings for Christmas should be no surprise. I have openly (perhaps too openly at times) shared my Christmas memories in this space.

Windshield time is thinking time and on the long drive home from our most recent Christmas get together I thought about, among many other things, how the observance of Christmas changes over the years.

My earliest memories of Christmas involve lots of cousins, uncles and aunts and grandparents as well as my own parents and siblings.

After some years the celebration of Christmas began to involve spouses and in-laws and before you know it children and nieces and nephews. I loved the Christmases when my kids and our nieces and nephews were young and watching their joyous reactions when opening Christmas gifts.

I have many memories of those Christmases and how the they became noisier and more crowded, but happy nonetheless.

As families grow and age the larger observances begin to fade and, at least in my case, began growing more intimate.

My two children both left home in the late ’90s. They always came home for the holiday and on Christmas mornings they, their mother and I spent a wonderful time of opening gifts, eating a late breakfast and enjoying our day together. For a number of years we drove to my mother’s home for a Christmas Day lunch of her delicious homemade chicken noodle soup and then to Cindy’s family for a group celebration that evening.

My wife passed away in 2013 and my mother died in 2018. In the ensuing years our Christmas observances have continued to change.

The past holiday Julie and I celebrated Christmas twice: once with my children and a week later with her children and grandchildren.

Both of my kids came “home” for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and the day following. Julie prepared excellent meals and in the evenings we watched online movies and enjoyed each other’s company. We exchanged gifts on Christmas morning.

A week later Julie and I drove to northwest Iowa to celebrate the holiday with her two children, their spouses and their children who range in age from nearly four to 11. It was a much noisier celebration than the week before but equally joyous.

These years one of my greatest Christmas joys is watching the grandchildren open their gifts. Julie’s five grandkids are all well-mannered but my heart was especially warmed by almost four-year-old Hannah who thanked the givers of her gifts as she opened each one.

From Beckett’s joy with a new LEGO set, to Lincoln’s happiness with his indoor-archery set to Hannah’s love for a complete set of dollhouse furniture, the house was filled with excitement.

The next day we celebrated all the January birthdays in the family with a homemade ice cream cake (prepared by Julie’s daughter.) My heart was warmed again as my January birthday was included in the celebration.

During our observances of the recent Christmas my mind rolled back to the Christmas of 2013, our first Christmas without Cindy. It was a bittersweet day. My children and I were happy to be together but the absence of their mother, my wife of 43 years, was painfully apparent.

Fast forward to the Christmas of 2021. My two children have accepted and love Julie and her family has accepted and loves me. We miss Cindy and Julie’s Bill, of course. Time doesn’t eliminate grief but time allows grief to abate sufficiently to find new joy in our lives.

Christmas observances change over a lifetime and I’ve seen many changes during mine. I have noticed, however, the changes in our observance of Christmas do not necessarily eliminate the joy of the holiday.

For those willing to look for it, Christmas joy is always there… as it should be.

Twentieth-century author Gladys Taber understood. “Christmas is a bridge,” she wrote. “We need bridges as the river of time flows past. Today’s Christmas should mean creating happy hours for tomorrow and reliving those of yesterday.”


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