My mother loved Christmas.
She had secret hiding places for storing gifts, surprises for the whole family that she began buying months in advance. The hours she spent wrapping them produced works of art with surprises inside. I remember tiny ribbon rockets, ornate handmade bows, themed designs woven from paper, string, ribbon, and fabric that were a gift unto themselves. The pile of creativity she created under the tree rivalled the decorations on the boughs above.
She spent an equal number of hours in the kitchen baking cookies. As a child, she made me feel an important part of this process as she cheerfully directed my efforts at adding sugar and candy decorations to each one. As an adult, I looked forward each Christmas to invading Mom's kitchen to see what sinful delights she had stored in the multiple tins on the counter. I was never disappointed. Cutout sugar cookies, date bars and rum balls were special favorites. Her recipes are used in my kitchen now, eliciting the same joy from my children.
Christmas carols echoed throughout the house for weeks, either from the record player or my mother's own vocal chords. She had a lovely voice. "Silver Bells" and "White Christmas" were her favorites. I had an illustrated book of carols from which she would encourage me to sing to her each night as she prepared dinner.
Teaching me about the true meaning of Christmas was just as important. She explained the stories behind the words of Christmas carols, placed our ceramic manger scene in a place of honor in the living room as she talked about that blessed night with me, and we always attended Christmas Eve candlelight services at church. My mother's religious beliefs were an important, yet private part of who she was. I respect that still.
Her one frustration at Christmas was my father. His day job involved decorating commercial stores and windows, and, at Christmas, he was exceptionally busy, making the task of decorating his own home a chore he avoided as long as possible. My mother's pleading would fall on deaf ears until Christmas was drawing very near, then he would begrudgingly put up the tree, the lights and the decorations in the yard. Dad had a knack for creating Christmas magic as he labored, even though he grumbled about it the entire time. He didn't dampen Mom's spirits, though, and her grateful kisses and hugs always produced a smile and laughter from him.
Christmas morning brought wishes granted and surprises galore. She never failed to remember everyone's Santa List, but she was a master at purchasing that special present that showed how much she cared. I still remember the smiles on her face as she would watch those packages being ripped open by the recipients. The hours she had spent creating a gift box on the outside only added to the happiness she felt seeing the discovery by them of what lay inside it.
Hot cocoa and cookies were part of Christmas breakfast, and then it was time to put on a beautiful new dress my mother had made so that I was ready to welcome the relatives for Christmas dinner. With the help of my grandmother and aunts, she happily prepared all the fixings for a delicious repast. As the meal was enjoyed, I would catch her watching the faces of the family, delighting in their delight at what was served.
I never heard a word from my mother about how draining all that preparation and work was for her. She just adored every moment of the Season and all it stood for. Most importantly, she didn't do any of it to impress; she did it because it gave her joy to see how much it meant to everyone else. I'll never stop missing her joyful laughter and caring ways at this time of year. She instilled in me the Magic Of Christmas in a way I cherish, and I've tried to pass it on to my children and grandchildren. I know our family will never forget the true meaning of Christmas because that gift of love was given to us by a very special woman.