Thanksgiving is this week, but my heart has moved on to Christmas. Baby Girl is due in just over 10 weeks, and we have chosen to keep our family close to home during these final weeks of pregnancy and days as a family of three. I love my Thanksgiving traditions from the Gulf Coast but find celebrating Thanksgiving alone to be really sad. Our church is hosting a huge (estimate is approaching 500 guests) Thanksgiving dinner tonight for neighbors who visit our food pantry, live in subsidized group homes, and may otherwise not get a big holiday meal this week. My husband and I will participate in that event in support capacities, but that’s the closest we’ll likely get to “Thanksgiving food” this week. (I may cave and buy a can of cranberry sauce or maybe even make my grandmother’s dressing. We’ll see).
But I am super excited about Christmas, and that excitement is fueled by my son’s awareness of the special time that is coming. Thanks to Lowe’s, Target, and other big box stores, he has been watching for Christmas for at least a month now. We’ve already made a gingerbread house, hung the garland on the stairs, and brought the first nativity out for play and display. I have written before of time collapse moments when present and future seem to swell up together, and decorating for Christmas feels rich with those moments. Soon, though maybe not this year, the events of the season will be etched in his mind as family memories. I am confident that he will remember this Christmas as far as next year even if he cannot conjure up images thirty years from now. He is beginning to pick up pieces of the cultural story as well as the Church’s story, and he is asking lots of questions about how all of the Santa and tree and Baby Jesus stuff fits together. These are exciting days.
My grandmother gave me a Christmas journal for our first Christmas together, and it is lovely to pull out each year and mark our activities, meaningful visits with friends, favorite memories, and annual card photo. As I document the moments, I can picture our future adult children looking back through the pages and remembering with me on all of those Christmases gone by. We will ooh and aah, laugh and maybe cry, and we will reflect on the traditions our family began right here on this day in this moment.
Roberta Bondi, in her book Memories of God, wrote something to the effect of part of our identities existing forever only in the memories of our mothers. I’ll look for the book during naptime and come back to post the exact quote.* I remember that sentiment often as I share special moments, like decorating the gingerbread house, with my son. What parts of me exist only in the mind of my mother? What will I remember and hold of my children that they will soon forget? And what memories of us does God hold just as near?
The garland and tree and cookies can go too far. We can elevate cultural traditions over the depth of the Christian drama that should be marked at this time of year. But there is also something sacred happening as those family ornaments and decorations are unpacked each year. Pay attention to the moment, to the memory, to the ways of being that link us all to one another, and to the times that we have forgotten but someone else has held close.
*Updated: p. 108 Memories of God: Theological Reflections on a Life by Roberta Bondi
It has always been the deepest of mysteries to me that my mother has an intimate knowledge of me as a baby and as child that I myself can never have access to at all. It is as though a fundamental part of me has existence only in my mother’s memory, and when my mother dies this part of me will die, too. In the same way, God my mother holds the whole of me forever in God’s ever-present memory, and God will never die.