By the afternoon of Christmas Eve this year I was coming apart at the seams.
In the weeks prior to Christmas I had traded away planned days off for pressing priorities at work, but did manage to hold onto one precious day during the week before Christmas. And on that day I went Christmas shopping from early in the morning to late afternoon. At the end of the day I thought I had managed to remember everyone on my list and I carried bags of gifts into our dining room which had been transformed into a one stop wrapping centre, and closed the door.
The next few days were so busy that it wasn't until the afternoon of Christmas Eve that I went back into the room and began to wrap presents. This is when my anxiety, which had been at a notch just below panic until then, really began to grow. We have 6 grandchildren and 3 God children and a few other young friends we buy small gifts for. I had chosen carefully when shopping, but now, under pressure to wrap before leaving for the Christmas Eve service at church, I couldn't for the life of me be sure which one I had bought for whom.
My dear friend Susan and I usually exchange gifts on Christmas Eve, but this year both of our lives at work were so crazy that I didn't expect we would manage it until after Christmas. But into the chaos of the wrapping frenzy came a phone call. It was Susan's brave voice on the other end saying, "We're leaving for Emily's any minute. I can be there in 20 minutes to drop off your gifts--I didn't even wrap them properly--just threw them in a bag, and I think I forgot one of them--but they are ready."
"Oh, really?" I said in horror, looking at the chaotic piles of gifts, paper, ribbon and labels that I was surrounded by, "I'm not--I didn't expect, I mean, I don't think I can get it together that fast, why don't we cut ourselves some slack and do it after Christmas this year?"
But even as she agreed to my Grinchiness, I could tell that I had poured cold eggnog on a precious tradition in our friendship.
"Wait--no," I said, "I can do it. Please come. I will do my best." It didn't take much persuading. And thereupon I notched up my frenzy intensity a few notches and began power wrapping. Deep down I was glad when Susan and Ron's car pulled into the driveway and we exchanged bags that contained gifts that expressed our love for one another but still I was more tense than the elastic on a catapult by the time we left for the Christmas Eve service at church.
I knew something was wrong with me when smiling greetings of "Merry Christmas," from our church friends, seemed extremely bright in their happiness in comparison to my residual tenseness. I should have worn a warning sign, "Approach with caution; no knowing what she may do."
But as Paul and I sat in the dimly lit church, surrounded by church family, and being hugged by the four of our six grandchildren who were there, and who had enough excitement spilling out of them to cheer up the most miserable celebrant, I began to unwind a little. The church seemed to hum with excited children in fact; children who couldn't sit still but bobbed and weaved in their rows of family.
Once the short service of carols and stories told by candlelight ended, we all hugged again and wished one another a very merry Christmas and Paul and I set out along lightly snow covered country roads, for Mansfield and another Christmas tradition: Christmas Eve with the Furuya's.
Our three God children, Summer-Lily, Eden and Jake, look forward to this time together each year, as do we, and Frances told me that day that Jake had been reminiscing about early memories of time spent with us, when Paul had found a way to track the progress of Santa Claus on the internet and set it up so that Jake could watch it. Summer used to be carried around on Paul's shoulder during a weekly cell group that Frances came to in our home back then, some 17 or so years ago--long before Eden's birth, which I attended and cut her umbilical chord. We are bound together with them, "family of the heart" as we are with some other precious friends.
We ate delicious home made dark ginger cake, sipped coffee, laughed and talked and exchanged gifts.
At midnight we arrived home and then I sat down with a cup of tea in a special cup and opened Susan's gifts, so glad that I had thought better of giving up our own special Christmas tradition.
And next year? I'm hoping that I manage to be in a saner state by Christmas! That would be a tradition worth beginning.