Each year I write in what I refer to, ever so creatively, as the Christmas Book. It’s an unlined journal with a green velvet and gemstone cover I started keeping the year Elvis was born. At the time I must have had more time on my hands because I would write as the advent season began and then again afterward to record how Christmas went. The last few years I’ve gotten lazy I mean smarter I mean more efficient and only write after the Christmas season is over, upon the packing up of the tree and decorations.
Again, when I first started keeping the journal I also staged the children in Christmas outfits next to the Christmas tree in a red Christmas chair, thinking with damp eyes how I would have a catalog of my children around the tree throughout the years, *sob* and wouldn’t it just be beautiful? Yeah, well, it would’ve been had I kept up with the whole taking-pictures-and-dressing-up-my-kids-and-forcing-them-to-pose-for-me thing. So the last few years I’ve cut out the family photo from the photo Christmas cards I’m still sending (but who knows how long that will last) and jam them in with the rest of the photos–not glued or taped or stitched in there or anything, just crammed in between the cover and the first page–and hope I don’t dump them out and lose them at some point.
The book serves as the over-detailed family Christmas letter we never send.
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
I don’t know what will happen with the Christmas Book. I keep it mostly for myself, for now, something I read through each year on Christmas Eve or before I box it all up and remember what it was we struggled with or rejoiced over that year. The first year was the year Grandpa Lingro got sick and then died after a very short spell in hospice. Then there were new pets and new jobs, new sports, new homes, new friends, new holiday traditions, Christmas with everyone sick, Christmas with everyone well. I try to write like it might matter or make sense to someone, anyone else.
I wrote earlier this month about the ghosts of Christmases past, inviting them in to celebrate and mourn and rejoice and hope. I find myself turning now to the ghosts of Christmases yet to be. Who will remember these things we’ve witnessed? Who will read and reflect and pass down their memories of this season, and what will those memories be composed of? Will my kids remember making cinnamon ornaments together or will they remember the busyness, the five or six times they had to say my name, “Mom, Mom, Mom, Mommy, MOM!” before I’d shout back, “What?!” Or will they remember none of it, or all of it, or some of it, or will their memories be folded into our collective family’s vision of our lives captured in Facebook posts and photo albums and this book I keep, this book my summarized and white-washed legacy, some shadows but mostly light.
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.
It’s the light I want them to remember, of course, but my own memories of this season and beyond have their own dark recesses, family dramas and uncomfortable stacks of presents collected for the family not present, flabbergasted adult conversations I caught wind of in kitchens, fighting with my brothers and dad to get them to help with decorating, to enter into the making of my already nostalgic Christmas memory. The Christmas Books my family has passed along are crocheted and cross-stitched Christmas ornaments, books inscribed with names of great aunts and uncles to a toddler grown into an adult, recipes from the Old Country, songs plunked out on a piano, and the constant warmth and presence of together. There are no words for such things, I suppose.
But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
Tonight, I will do my best to manufacture a Christmas memory with my husband and family. Lydia will be all starlit eyes, Elvis will find some way he has been slighted, Henry will whine because he’s four, and each will go to sleep stitching their own versions of this Christmas Eve into their minds. Later, I will record this season in scripted print on unlined paper, this transcription one more strand they might gather with each other’s later into one long complex braid of how our lives were woven, separate and together, to see and share their light and dark legacy.
The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
I will glorify and praise God for all the things I’ve heard and seen. I will sing, rage, weep, and dance, for God is with us in each of these things, and maybe that’s what I hope is most evident in this Christmas Book tradition. God is with us: Look. See? Just as you were told.