On the second day of November, 2009, my husband and I left our home in Colorado and headed west to California to begin the task of moving his mother and selling her house.
My father-in-law had recently died, and my mother-in-law was returning to her childhood home in . We did not know as we drove westward that it would be almost two months before we would return home.
Many factors combined to prolong our stay in California
- the overwhelming amount of possessions and the enormous amount of time needed to sift through them;
- the difficulty in finding an estate seller that would take on the monumental task of selling whatever was not wanted of the contents of the house;
- the interminable review of papers accumulated through many decades;
- the practical and time-consuming work involved in fixing many little things in a house which had seen better days.
As the days of November passed, and December began, it became apparent that Christmas would soon be upon us but our work was not finished.
At this time we had no children still at home. Two had finished college and were working, and two were still in college, and were due home for Christmas break.
Their vacation time began, and we were not home to welcome them. They flew out to Colorado and stayed for a week with their aunt who lived two hours away from us.
Split up when we should be together.
As the days and weeks went by, my frustration and anger were growing. Christmas had always been for our family, as it is for many families, a time to come together after being separated, to enjoy each other’s company, and to catch up with each other, particularly now that we no longer all lived under the same roof.
And here we were, with Christmas day about a week away, and no one was at home.
In a conversation with our oldest son around this time, I gave vent to my disappointment at the way things had turned out. During a lull in my complaints, our son said, “Christmas is not primarily about family togetherness,” and his words more or less stopped me in my tracks.
During the remaining time we had, I still had moments of anger, but I don’t think they were as bad as they had been. Our son’s timely words had borne fruit.
A few days before Christmas, this same son flew in, picked up his brothers from their aunt’s house, and they drove home on a cold and icy winter night.
They stopped on the way to shop for all the things they could remember that we traditionally had for Christmas, and at last made it home up our steep, snow-covered, quarter-mile driveway, to a house which had been shut up for two months during a Colorado mountain winter.
Christmas without Parents
Our sons cut down a Christmas tree from the property, picked up their sister at the airport in on Christmas Eve, went to midnight Mass that night, then drove home to decorate the house and await their parents’ return. They made a resolution not to quarrel, and they delved into the stash of Christmas candy on December 25th, since, parents or no parents, it was Christmas day.
About five o’clock in the late afternoon of a mild California Christmas day, after further frustrations and a number of last-minute delays, my husband and I set out on our trip eastwards towards Colorado and home, driving a large moving truck filled with my mother-in-law’s belongings.
We made it home after driving straight through from northern California, having had to detour southward because of the snowy mountain passes further north.
We arrived home in the small hours of December 27th, to find the fire burning in the wood stove, the living room covered with Christmas lights, carols playing very softly, and our oldest son dozing in an armchair, having volunteered to stay up for our arrival.
Our family celebrated our Christmas day on December 28th that year.
Grateful for the Memory
In the years that followed, I thought about the words our son had said to me about the meaning of Christmas, and when Christmas 2012 came around, I thought of them again.
We had only our youngest child home for Christmas that year, and I wrote in our card to our oldest son and his new wife:
“ You once reminded me, when I very much needed reminding, that Christmas is not primarily about family togetherness. But the two are not unrelated either, and we will miss you this Christmas.”
He told me later that when he read my note, he grew teary because he suddenly realized he had spoken words about the meaning of Christmas that were exactly the kind of thing his mother had said to him as a child.
What goes around comes around, and that is as it should be. As we homeschool our children, we tell them the things we think are important, the things we think they need to hear as they grow up.
Sometimes, however, we ourselves need to be reminded of those same things, and it is fitting that our children, who have learned what we taught them, are able to remind us.
Christmas is not essentially about families gathering together, but Christmas and families are not unrelated. Christmas is essentially about God, who is Love, and who gave His only-begotten Son to us for our salvation out of love for us.
And this God who became man for our sakes not only manifested His love by the Incarnation, but his birth brought into being the Holy Family, that family which shows us what love is, and which is the exemplar for all family love.