Dear Mom,

Thank you for being the architect of my Christmas experience.

While I believe I had a child-appropriate appreciation of you at the time, now that I’m a mom, I see even more clearly just how much love and effort you put into our Christmases past…and what a lasting effect that has had.

Every year, our already warm and creative childhood home went into overdrive with carefully-placed decorations (including the yearly ornament we each received to add to the tree), delicious baking, and fun music (Dolly Parton’s/Kenny Rogers’ and Roger Whittaker’s Christmas songs still have a huge nostalgic effect on me, even if your cassette tapes were long ago rendered useless).  In 1989, after losing your own father mere months before, you still somehow produced a joy-filled holiday, with no tradition forgotten.

Tradition is so incredibly important to kids, and whether it was new pajamas on Christmas Eve or leaving our stockings outside our bedroom doors for Santa to fill (even if I now realize that bought you some extra sleep while we looked through our goodies in silence), my brother and I counted on those yearly rituals to make the holiday so special.

{Just to be clear, Dad played a big part in traditions as well of course: making Grandma Leahy’s fudge (the sweetest treat you will ever taste in your life) and reading us The Night Before Christmas – and is deserving of innumerable thank you letters for his influences on us – but we all know who was in charge of Christmas!}

You weren’t parents who bought us toys randomly throughout the year, but we were certainly spoiled at Christmastime, by Santa and by you. I can remember poring over the Sears Wish Book, listing the small, medium and large items that I hoped to find (not wrapped, of course) under the tree – sticking to Santa’s total limit of  $50. Every year there was a Barbie to add to my collection…and you can find each one being enjoyed in my home still. (Not by me, though I certainly enjoy my children playing imaginative, interactive games that keep them out of my hair.)

Once I had a child of my own, I realized that – over a period of a few years – a seismic holiday shift had taken place. No longer was my Christmas joy someone else’s responsibility, but that (beautiful) burden of creating the holiday for someone was now on my own shoulders…and I don’t know how I would be doing it successfully without your example.

Many of my childhood traditions are now part of my daughters’ Christmas experience, like the secret codes you put on our wrapped gifts so we wouldn’t know whose was whose until Christmas Day…unless of course we cracked the code. I remember “Marvelous” and “Fantastic” (the former for my brother and the latter for me…readers, can you figure that one out?) and other codes relating to our interests and ages. My daughters are currently stumped by the “310” and “530” tags under our tree! (Note: as I edited this post – on the treadmill – they came running over to me to announce they had successfully cracked the code!)

When it comes to wrapping, you were great at disguising gifts, though there was one not-so-positive experience when we were intrigued by the rattling sound inside our small, matching packages. We wanted to save them for last on Christmas morning, predicting something very cool and noteworthy, but fortunately you suggested otherwise…which we appreciated, as who wants to save a box of vitamins for the end??? My own girls’ gifts are cleverly concealed under the tree now, and as they get older, I know I’ll have to get even more creative for their prying eyes and eager hands!

Even though Ed and I are married now with our own kids and the torch has been passed, you continue to make the holiday so special for your children, children-in-law and grandkids. I’ve been at Christmas Eve Mass at the same church every year of my life, and I love how our immediate family gathers to enjoy a meal afterwards. (There are Sweet Marie bars this year, right?)

Of course the presents are fun too, not only for the kids but the adults as well. Though I know it’s difficult to find original ideas, you always seem to come up with something we haven’t seen before: texting gloves, a new board game. I didn’t even know I wanted a goat (for World Vision) until you got us one! (On a related note, your volunteer work and charitable contributions model for us how to keep celebrating Christ all year long.)

This Christmas Eve when I go to bed, instead of sugarplums I’ll have momentary doubts running through my head (Was that the Barbie she wanted? I did remember the tag on that last gift, right? Will Santa leave too many crumbs on my kitchen table? Did we buy bacon???) but if I am anything like my mother, I should sleep easy knowing that Christmas will be wonderful for my children once again…just as it always was for me.

(P.S. As much as I’d love to share a childhood Christmas picture with my mom, of course I can’t find one: she was always behind the camera, of course!)

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