Many of us long for simpler times, the days when you could wish your friends and family a "Merry Christmas" without a disclaimer of a hint of irony. Days of glowing lights, nativity scenes, full-throated caroling, collections for the poor, sermons about the infant Jesus bringing hope, joy and light to a world of darkness. Back then, actually not that long ago, Christmas seemed so uncontroversial. Fortunately, the above Christmas spirit has not disappeared entirely from view. It still exists in many communities across this nation.It sure does. Right here on Big Walker Mountain.
We had a gathering of family - our first this holiday season - here at home on Sunday. My son, daughter-in-law, and the twins, Jayla and Kaid. Our daughter, son-in-law and little Chase. Paula was there as coordinator, referee, and chef; I provided the entertainment.
We got together here to begin the celebration of Christmas a bit early because Paula and I wanted the grandchildren - all three are two years old - to see the house all decorated and lit up. They are at an age when Christmas, as with all other aspects of their lives, is full of wonder. And learning. They are in varying stages of potty training and consider their successful use of the toilet to be ... a wonderful thing. That is what they are told anyway. And they accept the praise.
Ask their mothers. To them, it is certainly a wonderful thing.
We will all be over at my daughter's house to actually do the gift exchange on Christmas Eve. We won't be getting together on Christmas Day because my son will be on duty - he is a Roanoke firefighter and will, unfortunately, be very busy that day - and we chose to assemble when all members of the family could be there.
But we wanted to get together at Gramps's house too because my home is - as it should be - a magical place to the young ones. A place for them to play and to have fun. A place to explore. A large home for them to run in and to wrestle in and one where they could dance. Kaid said, after being here only a few minutes, "Want to dance, Gramps?" He remembered having been here a few months ago and dancing with Jayla and me to Toby Keith's CD, I Love This Bar. So we danced around the den for a few minutes and then it was off on some other adventure.
As you could imagine, the festivities were organized around the interests of the young ones. We ran - Chase loves to run and is fast as lightning. We played with cars in the Christmas village (what good is a room full of St. Nicholas Square buildings, figurines, sleighs, bridges, trees, ponds, boats and animals, if you can't play with them?). Greg and I took the three little ones outside (even though it was very cold and the wind was enough to make your face crack) and had a snowball fight. I must say that I probably won - if you measure success by the number of snowballs that connected - but Chase, Jayla, and Kaid won too, as only children who are enjoying themselves can. Despite the bitter cold, they laughed and ran and threw missiles at their Gramps as fast as Greg could make them. I retaliated with snowballs of my own, always being careful to land a hit on their little backsides so as not to hurt them. I asked a number of times if they were getting cold. They would barely take the time to answer no, before running to get more ammunition. We played and played. That's what makes Christmas a special time.
Greg decided after a while to go on a hike. So he and I, Chase, Jayla and Kaid climbed the hill behind the house and converged on the tree house. The four of them climbed the ladder up to the platform in the trees and proceeded to bombard Gramps with sticks. They had great fun watching me dodge their throws or to hear me howl in anguish when one of their sticks actually hit me. This lasted for a time and then we went back to the house to get the little ones out of their wet clothing and to warm up in front of the fire.
And that's how the day went. Paula fixed a great meal. We all gathered in the living room in front of the fireplace with its relaxing warmth. We talked. And the grandchildren played. Jayla showed off her new skirt and sweater. Chase and Kaid wrestled on the floor with my son. I took pictures of those in attendance, including a wonderful shot of Paula and Jayla in matching sweaters, sitting in the recliner together, with that look of Christmas joy that one only sees when the family gets together, intimately.
When they had departed for home, I turned to Paula and told her how I thought the day had been perfect; just as I had hoped it would turn out. My intention was for the grandchildren - and children - to have fun. They did. Will Jayla, Kaid, and Chase remember this day twenty years from now? No. But did the day contribute to their understanding of what Christmas is all about?
You bet. It is a day when the family gets together and shares joys and hopes and love and laughter. Right now Christmas is a time of wonderment to the young ones. Soon - too soon for me - they will have their own children and will be teaching them the joy that is Christmas at their own homes. And Gramps will be left to chasing Nana around the house on Christmas. Just the two of us. That, too, is as it should be.
May Jayla, Kaid, and Chase - and their children and grandchildren of the future - all have many Merry Christmases together. Paula and I will be celebrating with you.
* Originally published on December 22, 2004