Sometimes the best gifts, the things that stay with us long after Christmas, are memories.
You know, family stories about aunts, uncles and grandfathers who are no longer with us. Stories about how those individuals embraced this huge holiday.
OK, no one is suggesting you try to turn the yule into a pine-scented genealogy project. Children, perhaps the primary intended beneficiaries of these fond strolls down memory lane, tend to be a bit preoccupied with wild-eyed excitement on Christmas Day.
But you might be surprised at what they hear and retain about the people who came before them. And so, many years from today, they might have an answer when, say, their own kids ask how the family came to live in the Inland Northwest.
“Well, your great-grandfather’s Uncle Jack lived in Chicago and he wanted to go somewhere where he could open his own store.”
But on this day, there are no stories like Christmas stories.
Stories about generosity, love and smiles that shine through the decades.
Stories about how your late brother used to shake and sniff gift boxes before opening his presents and then confidently predict what he would find inside. (He was always hilariously wrong.)
Stories about how your Aunt Helen used to open presents like someone attempting to carefully disarm an explosive device. (So the wrapping paper could be used again.)
Stories about how your dad used to employ so much tape when wrapping gifts that the holiday paper seemed almost superfluous. (And you practically needed an ax to open gifts from him.)
Stories about how your Uncle Roy always lobbied for opening presents on Christmas Eve. (And always got overruled.)
Stories about how your grandparents used to scrimp and save and sacrifice so their children could have a Christmas they would remember. (“If they knew how much people were going to spend on gifts in 2018, it would have blown their minds.”)
These memories needn’t be sad or morose. They don’t have to turn into lectures about gratitude.
But most might agree it’s a good thing to understand where we come from. And one way to do that is to know a little about the people in our families who were here before us.
For those who celebrate the holiday, Christmas can reveal what sort of people we are. That has been true for a long time.
Christmas Day can be packed with a sense of embracing the here and now. You wouldn’t want to get bogged down in a festival of nostalgia. Still, sometimes reflective moments present themselves.
“Did you know your great Uncle Sid received a chemistry set one Christmas and almost blew up the house? He wound up being assigned to a munitions detail in Iraq.”
Just about every family can tell these stories. But kids need to know they don’t just come from just any family. They come from yours.
“Did you ever hear about the time your late grandmother stayed up all night Christmas Eve finishing a dress she made for your mother? It was, well, awful. Looked like something in a ‘Carol Burnett’ skit. But your mother wore it proudly for the rest of Christmas Day and then she wore it on New Year’s Eve. That’s the kind of girl your mother was.”
This holiday has no monopoly on memorable family stories, of course. But there’s something about Christmas that stamps tales of animal rescues and the kind gestures of strangers with an indelible permanence.
Presents come and presents go. But for those of us who are the lucky ones, the interwoven relationships of families stand the test of time.
For some of us, that includes the unforgettable personalities of dear ones now gone.
The happy burble of excited children and giddy laughter of this day echo through the years. We who remember owe it to the newest generations to make sure they know.
They have been bequeathed a legacy of love. And it’s one of the things we celebrate on Christmas.
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