Hmm, December seems to have gotten away from me. First it was the frantic rush to finish up homeschooling for the year, on top of celebrating Milly's third birthday for no less than a week. That celebration slid neatly into our annual Christmas party, and from there, it was a mad dash to finish cleaning, cooking, shopping, wrapping, visiting, eating, cleaning, playing and celebrating. Whew!
When we first instituted our annual Christmas party in 2007, it was with the intent of having everyone come to us, eliminating our need to go dashing about the countryside all willy-nilly when Christmas actually came. Of course, I was also hugely pregnant with Amelia that winter, and the idea was partially born from the notion that we wouldn't have to drag our newborn in and out, in and out, in and out. (Let all the germs come to her, right?) Anyway, we've faithfully hosted the party each year since, although I'll admit, we're considering bowing out in 2011, as we have high hopes for other plans in December...but that's another post.
At any rate, this year's birthday-slash-Christmas party sneaked right up on me. The night before found me still cleaning, with a to-bake list waiting for the cleaning to be done, and me foaming at the mouth as I dusted and swept, sure that I wasn't going to see any sleep that night if I were to finish everything on my list. I couldn't resist complaining to my bestest mommy friend when she texted me that she was out at the grocery store...and darned if she didn't offer to come over and help me finish up. At 10 p.m. In the cold. Bearing doughnuts. I felt really awful for letting her, but I really did need the help...and we all know how much help husbands can be in times like these. He really only responds to direct orders ("carry this heavy box outside", "pick up your feet so I can vacuum", "take off those muddy boots, you KNOW I just vacuumed!!") and isn't so good about actually noticing things that need to be done.
So. She came, and she made cookies and her very first (very round, very aesthetically pleasing) cheese ball, and even hung the greenery on the railing, being very careful to make sure they were hung even and arranged so that the half that actually felt like blinking was separate from the rest of the subordinate non-blinking strand...rather than just throwing them around the room the way that Gene and his friend would have done it, left to their own devices. She stayed until 1 a.m. decorating my house, and let me tell you...I've never been so grateful for a friend. There's a quote that says "it's the friends you can call at 2 a.m. that matter," but a friend who would bake cookies and decorate your house at 1 a.m. is even better. I'm grateful for her every day.
Crisis thus averted, the party went well the next day. Milly loved wearing the Strawberry Shortcake dress that Gramma had made for her and digging into the most amazing berry house-shaped birthday cake in the world, and we visited with family and friends throughout the day before collapsing into bed that night, utterly exhausted.
Insert all of the shopping, wrapping, cleaning, cooking stuff here. You know the drill; I bet you did it all too.
We spent Christmas Eve evening with my dad and stepmom - Gene had been looking forward to Christmas Eve dinner (HAM) for weeks. The girls mostly only cared about the neat train that runs around the bottom of Grandpa's tree, and of course, that the majority of the gifts underneath bore their names. They both made out like bandits - Pillow Pets, books, hair clips, Strawberry Shortcake stuff, a Barbie with a video camera in her necklace and a viewing screen in her back (that Rachael really, really wanted, so this was awesomely exciting for her.) Gene got the coal that he absolutely deserved, and I got the new Bible that I've been wanting for a while, with King James and the NIV compared side-by-side throughout. I'm torn between wanting to be very careful with it, to keep it shiny and white and pristine, and looking forward to the day when it's grimy and wrinkled and crammed full of notes and falling apart from use!
Then it was back home and into pajamas, and Gene read 'Twas the Night Before Christmas to the girls, the way he has every Christmas Eve at bedtime since Rachael's very first Christmas. (Milly was less interested in the story than in the new Diego game for the Leapster that Grandpa had given her, but oh well. You can't win every year.) The story was followed by a typical Milly tantrum, resulting in her stomping off to her room, leaving Rachael to assemble milk and cookies for Santa on her own. She's such a big girl, she poured the milk from the gallon jug without spilling a drop...and I can't help wondering if she'll still believe next year. (I'm fully prepared to extend the magic for as long as humanly possible, by the way, having adopted my own mother's Christmas mantra - "when you stop believing, you stop receiving." I figure this will guarantee her belief until she's grown and married, at least.)
Rachael was a little sad at bedtime, knowing that our Elf on the Shelf, Elwin, would be heading home with Santa that night. We've enjoyed him so much this year, and I wish we'd had him sooner. The girls would roll out of bed in the morning and run, first thing, to find where Elwin was perched for the day. He spent several days on various shelves, one on top of a picture hung on the wall, one peeking out of a stocking, one riding on the glass Rudolph music box sitting on the piano. He even found his way into the bathroom one day, and into the shower. Their favorite, however, was Christmas Eve. You see, they hadn't been allowed to touch Elwin at all - the book that came with him explicitly stated that if you touched your elf, he would lose his magic - so even when he was well within their reach, they didn't dare touch. But on Christmas Eve morning, they woke to find Elwin sitting in the driver's seat of a pink Barbie convertible that was parked just outside their bedroom door, with a note beside him. The note informed that "Santa said" they could touch him after all, but only on Christmas Eve. :) He was the guest of honor that day, even going with us to Grandpa's house and riding on his train. So yes, Rachael (being my sensitive child) was very sad that it was time for Elwin to go, but she's had many assurances that she'll see him again next year...
The girls awoke on Christmas morning to the usual pile of gifts from Santa underneath the tree. Although Santa doesn't label anything in our house, they quickly surmised that the gifts wrapped in Dora paper belonged to Milly and the ones in Santa paper were Rachael's. Both girls received books and games and dolls...the biggest hits of the morning were the Princess & Me Ariel doll that had always been at the top of Rachael's Santa list, the Lalaloopsy dolls that they both wanted (a princess for Rachael, and one in fuzzy footie pajamas for Milly), the "red choo-choo train" that topped Milly's list, and (strangely, to me) some wooden play food from Melissa & Doug that you can actually slice into pieces. Santa caught that one on sale at Amazon and thought it was nice, but never expected it to be such a hit! (Speaking of Amazon...I was super surprised to unwrap something very neat of my own - a Kindle! But again, that's another post for another time. Suffice it to say for now that I looooove it muchly.)
Once the Christmas morning paper flinging and toy de-boxing was over, the flight of the bumblebee began. Hurry hurry hurry to clean up and get dressed, then Papa and Grandma arrived with more gifts. Papa, as is another Christmas morning tradition around these parts, whipped up a great breakfast of sausage, gravy, biscuits and eggs (he only makes the best scrambled eggs in the world. You think I'm exaggerating, but I'm not.) Once breakfast was over and they headed home, it was another fast clean-up before Gramma and Grandpa Tommy arrived with yet another big pile of gifts. They stayed for lunch, and then...yes, more clean-up, and then a visit from Gene's sister, her husband, and their kids, who were visiting from California. Needless to say, we don't see them nearly often enough, being on opposite ends of the country and whatnot, so we always look forward to spending time with them at Christmas. The girls were especially excited to see their cousin Ellie - at age four, she's right in between my girls and they're all old enough now to play so well together. It's a lot of fun to watch. Her poor little brother is terribly outnumbered by the girls, but not old enough yet to mind. :)
That's our Christmas in a nutshell...run run run, go go go, clean clean clean. But it was wonderful in spite of the craziness. There's nothing like a child's face on Christmas morning - I wish I could see that excitement and that joy every day! I wish we could spend time with our family as often. I wish my house were always that clean.
Now, I realize that I've talked a lot about gifts and food and visiting and Santa and elves and Christmas magic, and haven't delved into the true meaning of Christmas in this post...but anyone who knows me or reads regularly will know already that, although we do incorporate all of the the fun/magical/mysterious aspects of Christmas into our celebrations as well, we also reflect on the true meaning of Christmas, the birth of our Savior. We still have the advent calendar with little ornaments depicting all of the key players - shepherds, sheep, a stable, Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, wise men (all three of them!), camels, etc. The girls fought over whose day it was to hang the ornament, and Rachael can rattle off the Nativity story as fluently as most adults. She taught it to her sister, read it to her friend, and sang of the joy of His birth in church. She understands - as much as a six-year-old can - the sacrifice that was made for us, that God gave us His only Son. She knows WHY we celebrate Christmas. Milly...well, she's young and hard-headed. She's heard the story but doesn't fully "get it" yet. She will. Her sister would pound it into her if I failed to. ;) At any rate, I would have written a full-length post about the amazing gift that was received into a stable on that first Christmas (and actually composed bits and pieces in my head amid the scurrying around, but never quite made it to the keyboard with it) but you already know what I think. You didn't know the specifics of our Christmas, though, so I thought I would share those instead.
I hope everyone had a wonderful and similarly blessed Christmas, and I hope the joy of Christmas stays with you throughout the year.