When my mother-in-law and I were headed to my son’s first basketball game in Ellendale, N.D., we struck up a conversation about Christmas celebrations gone by. Both her dad and mom’s families came to the U.S. on boats from German Russian roots. The first-generation Americans settled near Kulm and Wishek, N.D. With limited resources and numerous children and grandchildren, not everyone received a pretty package for Christmas—but that was OK because the holiday wasn’t about presents. It wasn’t about elaborate decorations or menus, either.
My sister-in-law, Lori, mother-in-law, Carol and husband Nathan on Christmas together.
At the heart of my mother-in-law’s most cherished Christmas celebrations are the people—siblings, parents, grandparents, cousins, aunt, uncles, neighbors and friends. Sitting down and eating a traditional Christmas Day German Russian feast with loved ones was a gift. Sharing a box of apples, a winter delicacy on the snowy North Dakota prairie, with other children tops her list of Christmas memories.
To keep some of the German Russian recipes alive, I have been baking with my mother-in-law. The tradition has little to do with the food but everything to do with our family and spending time together to honor our ancestors.
When I encounter people this time of year, I can’t help but wonder what Christmas is like for them. I went to the grocery store to stock up on butter, white and brown sugar, cream and flour for baking and saw several elderly people with their groceries in tow heading to the local transit service bus. I was saddened to think they might spend Christmas alone.
At the basketball game, I saw a friend who lost her dad this year. Another friend who lost both of his sons this summer in a terrible car accident came to watch Hunter and sat with us. Their tables and traditions will be different this year at Christmas. Amidst the joy of the season, there will be a void because people are gone.
Thankfully, when the heart of the celebration is different, memories are a gift that can bring a smile to our faces.
Strip away the commercialization of Christmas and scale back on the presents and give the gift of time this year to those you love, those who are mourning and even those who are difficult to love. Who’s hurting in your life? Who is lonely this Christmas season? Do you have a relationship to mend? I can think of people I need to love more and not let slip through the cracks of the “busyness” of the season.
Words aren’t always necessary to show you care. Share a cup of Christmas tea with a neighbor, enjoy a box of fresh fruit with the kids at your church or crank up the Christmas carols and sing along with your family. My favorite Christmas memory is when my grandpa or dad read the book of Luke in the Bible on Christmas Eve.
Our three kids spent Christmas with all sets of their living grandparents and great-grandparents including my parents, Nathan’s parents and my grandparents. I appreciate the scheduling and cooperation this takes. Our kids share many memories with all grandparents several times a year.
If you can’t celebrate Christmas with people you love, remember they’re only a phone call or handwritten note away. While nothing beats being together, don’t miss an opportunity to express your love and appreciation. Christmas is a twelve day celebration and ends on my birthday, January 6. You still have time to share your presence.
There’s nothing wrong with buying and giving gifts at Christmas, adorning your house with twinkling lights or preparing a feast. I love gift-giving and hosting Christmas feasts at our home. Remember, though, Christmas is about people—whether that’s celebrating with 1 person or 50, under the same roof or via the phone.
Gifts lose their appeal in a matter of days. Eventually, Christmas lights are taken down and put back in storage. Even if you gorge yourself on a Christmas buffet, you’ll be hungry again. People and memories are etched in our minds forever.
(This was originally published as my weekly column in Agweek.)