Christmas Reflections

Christmas time is all about the hustle and bustle. We’re commercialized, we socialize and we run ourselves ragged between family, preparations and end of the year projects. But everyone is always saying the holiday are supposed to be about family, gratitude, helping others and reflection. Today I’d like to focus on reflection as my grandfather has been top of mind and I’d like to share one of our former traditions with you today.

Christmas always makes me think of my grandfather. He began a tradition when I was 3 years old in which he would take me Christmas shopping for my mom, dad and sister. We did that consistently every year until he passed away. He did the same thing with all 11 of his grandchildren. I think it was one of his favorite activities to do with us. We didn’t buy expensive things. He had a pretty small budget. But we didn’t care about that.

I always loved my grandfather, but we became really close when I reached adulthood. We had a lot in common, both of us being writers. We would talk about poetry and literature and politics (because if grandpa was anything, it was a politician). I am the oldest of his grandchildren and Christmas shopping was just one of our traditions. After I started working a grown-up job, we would have regularly scheduled dinners every month.

Over the years, things about our Christmas shopping tradition changed. I’m told that the first year he took me, I didn’t quite grasp the idea that we were shopping for others and not me πŸ™‚ . I also remember my grandfather snapping at me as a pre-teen about touching things if I wasn’t going to buy them. I’m still a tactile shopper to this day and love to touch things. I never quite grew out of that one. Sorry, Gpa. πŸ™‚

As I got older and reached driving age, I would pick my grandpa up at his house (he only lived a mile from my parents) and we would go shopping, have lunch and then go back to his house to wrap presents. Every year he would give me the same lecture. “Now this is how I think a present should be wrapped.” And he’d proceed to show me just how it should be done. Even in my twenties, he would insist on doing most of the wrapping, a fact that my sister and I both found funny. My grandpa was always full of good advice and get-rich-quick schemes and he’d use every opportunity to give us ideas and try to get us to follow through on them.

Some years were harder than others. As time passed, he would grasp my arm and I would help haul him out of the car or he’d steady himself on slippery streets or inclines using my arm or shoulder for support. My grandpa was a big man, at least 6′ 2″ and at 5′ 5″, there was not really much I would have been able to do had he fallen. But, it helped him feel more confident. He’d use a shopping cart to steady himself as we walked around the store.

I think the worst years for us was when my grandfather felt too ill or weak and he would hand me his credit card and wait in the car while I went inside and bought presents. I hated those years. This happened a couple of times.

Our tradition had nothing to do with the presents and everything to do with spending time together and honoring the tradition we had built. We continued shopping together well after I got my first job and could afford presents on my own. And I’m convinced that if he were alive today, we would still be heading out together for another round. But as the years went by, I couldn’t deny the evidence in front of me, though I often refused to acknowledge it. The trip was often hard for him and tiring. But he’d always pull through.

Our last year of Christmas shopping was 2013 and I have no clue what we bought, but I remember spending time with him and after wrapping presents, sitting in his office and chatting as we often did when we were together. My grandfather passed in March of 2014 away after contracting C. Diff at the hospital. He’d been admitted for a different problem and, sadly, got sick in the hospital.

My grandfather was a very special person. I am thankful for the many years of my life that I got to spend with him and that he was around well into my adulthood so that I was aware enough to ask him questions about his life, about his opinions and experiences. That time with him is priceless.

This Christmas, I am once again thinking of him and wondering what he would think of the world as it sits today. He’d most certainly have an opinion about it. I know he was tired and that he wasn’t afraid of dying and that part of him was even ready for it because he’d said as much to me on occasion. Today, his ashes are interred at Arlington National Cemetery due to his service during WWII. He was interred on December 30th on a bitterly could day. I know he would be proud to know that his ashes rest there.

Christmas is about family as much as it is about tradition and nostalgia. Change is something that we all at once crave and loathe. For me, Christmas will always remind my of my grandfather and our Christmas shopping trips. I always looked forward to them, and it is a tradition of the season I miss terribly.