Throughout the holiday season, I’m often torn between the tug of Christmases past, and the desire to immerse myself in creating new memories with those loved ones who are still by my side. While it is one of the busiest times of the year, it is also a time of reflection. Each song, each gift, each holiday movie, and each ornament brings out emotions I keep tucked away year round.
My family has celebrated Christmases in various homes through the years. We have experienced tropical Christmases and white Christmases. However, each year as we decorate our home for the holidays, there are certain decorations that immediately bring a smile to our faces, making our house a home for the holidays. I can still vividly recall decorations from my childhood. With children of my own now, I watch their faces light up as they giggle over ornaments they created in pre-school. Their joy as they unpack our advent calendar ready to begin the countdown, gives me hope that they too will one day be transported to their childhood holidays with just a glimpse of a particular decoration.
Every year when I was a child, my parents would play Christmas music while we unboxed ornaments, garland, and wreaths. The excitement built with each open box until it was almost palpable between the five of us. Each ornament placed on the tree added to the holiday scene being lovingly created in our small living room, but there was one item I impatiently waited to appear each year. I would rush through hanging my allotment of ornaments on the Christmas tree, and quickly move through box after box labeled, “Decoraciones de Navidad,” just so I could be the one to carefully unwrap our Nativity set, and hand it to my dad.
He loved it as much as I did. And, it was given the same reverence as placing the angel on top of the tree, perhaps more. I’m not sure if it was the figures of Mary and Joseph that seemed to come to life or if it was the rustic stable with details straight out of the Story of Christmas. Maybe it was a combination of both, but looking at that Nativity delivered me to that holy night. We would gather around my dad as he placed the small wooden stable in a select spot under the tree. He would sprinkle Spanish moss, some straw, and a little sawdust in a few places before moving on to my favorite part.
Years prior, my dad had created his own version of a little fire to keep the Baby Jesus warm. He built it out of twigs, and placed a small orange lightbulb in the center to give the illusion of fire. I was in awe of how it flickered just like a flame, and would sit mesmerized for hours, lost in the story of the Baby Jesus I had heard so many times throughout my childhood. My dad would often sit with me, arm around my shoulders, no words necessary. Though my dad has been gone for twenty-five years, that Nativity set lives on, as does the fire he lit year after year.
Every Christmas, no matter the emotions stirred up during the holidays, the yearning for what once was, the heartache for those who are no longer present, looking at that tiny fire brings the same amount of warmth as the feeling of his arm around me did for so many Christmases past.