It’s been 42 years since my husband and I were married, and having had a December wedding, and three children in the next nine years, the focus changed for a while to them instead of us. We never really sat down and talked about how we would celebrate Christmas, but as time passed we experimented to discover for ourselves what traditions offered by our culture would best fit our family. Some years the holiday came, and there were numerous family obligations and visits as we had time off from school, during which “our” day came and we nodded and smiled and said, “Yep, this was the day,” and went on with whatever we were doing. Some years we had time to celebrate by going to dinner, and after our nest emptied out, we even had brief getaway vacations when our schedule allowed. We always celebrated Christmas, but our anniversary received attention only if we got around to it.
This evolution of celebration has made me think back to that first Christmas Roger and I spent together. Actually, Christmas that year was five days before our wedding, and he went home to Portland with me to meet my parents for the first time. I knew I had made the right choice when I saw what a good sport he was. A photographer friend of my parents did our wedding portrait, and my mother held an open house for us. She was always a gracious hostess and a generous person. She loved to celebrate, and having a new son-in-law was her favorite Christmas present that year. We were 26 at the time, and I’m sure there were times she had despaired and wondered if I’d ever find someone to put up with me. Nevertheless, the first meeting with my parents was nothing if not memorable for Roger.
On Christmas morning, as we gathered for our gift exchange, Mother somehow lost her balance as she bent over to plug in the tree lights, and fell into the tree. It remained standing, even if she didn’t, and as my brothers helped her up, she laughed along with the rest of us at what a Laurel and Hardy thing she had done.
Mother always liked to have a special breakfast on Christmas, and this year it would be extra-special because Roger was there. We all took our places around the kitchen table, and as she hurried over from the stove with a pitcher of syrup she had just heated, the bottom dropped out of it. Our food got cold in the time it took us to clean up the mess. Permanent syrup stains on Roger’s slippers became a cosmic admonition for us to keep our sense of humor, no matter what we fell into, no matter what splashed on us.
We spent the following two Christmases on Guam, an island in the western Pacific. My mother sent us a box of Oregon holly to make a wreath, and some gold satin ornaments, which I piled up in the shape of a Christmas tree. Real trees were simply too expensive on our beginning teacher’s salary, and it's hard to celebrate Christmas in perpetual summer weather. For two years after that, we were in Iran, with a Jewish landlord who understood our Christian customs and kindly provided us with a living tree that we later planted in their garden.
We’ve had more ordinary celebrations since we settled down, and our children have enjoyed establishing and following the traditions we have had together. We all love following the tradition of our Danish ancestry with rice pudding on Christmas Eve--whoever gets the whole almond in their serving gets the pudding prize. It took the kids years to figure out that I manipulated the servings so the same person didn’t win the pudding prize two years in a row. As our children have left home, they’ve each had the collection of tree ornaments I started for them when they were very young. Now they do the same thing for their own children.
When the three of them got old enough to govern themselves, we'd go away for a couple of days and leave them home alone. Our rationale was this: "Before there was you, there was us. Some day you'll leave and it'll just be us again. We don't want to come to that place having forgotten what it's like to be us. So we go away to focus on each other and remind ourselves who we are."
Both of our daughters were married in the year we celebrated our 25th anniversary. When they celebrate their 25th, we’ll celebrate our 50th, and we have decided to get together and have a big party that year. For 15 years, we arranged and juggled Christmas visits between Vancouver WA and Decatur IL which took our minds off the subject of anniversaries. Besides, grandchildren are so charming, so delightfully distracting. Now two of our kids live in Utah and one lives in New York.
Through the years, we’ve seen Christmas and our anniversary take on different forms of celebration, and looking back over the mellowing process of time, I appreciate more and more the celebration of the birth of Christ, who did for us what we cannot do for ourselves, and who is the holder of the seal that binds our family together. To focus on his birth and his gifts helps us remember that he has always been a part of our lives and our marriage, that he is the ultimate marriage counselor, and that it matters to him that we have been true and faithful not only to each other, but also to him.