Christmas has always been a special time for me. As a child, the whole month of December was a magical and joyous time, filled with traditions and activities that kept the wonder of the season alive! For our family, and many of those in our community, the “Christmas” season started on Thanksgiving weekend. The Friday or Saturday after the great feast, my dad would “force” us to help him put the lights up on the house. Of course, it never felt as if we were forced, because we loved doing it with him and loved how amazing it looked when it was finished.

In the Willamette Valley in Oregon, there are only about three months of the year when it isn’t raining. At the beginning of the school year in September, right before the rains would come, my dad would also force us to help him get a couple cords of wood loaded in his pickup to then stack into the wood shed at home. This was typically an all-day event. The helping part was not very fun, but when that wood was burning in the fire place of the family room during the cold holiday months, it was worth it! There’s nothing better than sitting by the fire with a cup of hot chocolate when it’s cold outside and the joy of Christmas is beginning to build.

In the first weeks of December, my family would pile into the Suburban and head up to the local Christmas tree farm. On the property there was a huge barn where we could help ourselves to all the hot chocolate and candy canes my mom would allow. We’d grab a saw and head out to find the perfect tree. The battle of the parents was at play here, as my mom always wanted a Noble Fir and my dad always wanted a Douglas Fir. My brother, sister and I also liked the Douglas Fir best, so my mom lost the Christmas tree war most years.

We would then bring the tree home with great anticipation for the decoration ceremony that would follow. My dad would prepare the tree to bring it into the house, while my mom would retrieve the ornaments and decorations. As an annual tradition, each kid would get a new ornament to add to the tree. It was fun hanging our individual ornaments from Christmas past. My mom had a large collection of beautiful vintage ceramic angels and ornaments that were passed down to her from her aunt. My brother, sister and I would be excited to put up one of mom’s treasured ornaments on the tree. It is no exaggeration that one of her special ornaments would break each year by the hands of one of us. When this tragedy would occur, I could sense a little part her crying inside. But because she knew these things happen and she didn’t want to spoil the magic of the moment, she did her best to gracefully handle the situation.

Christmas Eve and Day were always so exciting, as both sets of my grandparents lived in the same town. Christmas Eve was generally with my mom’s parents and Christmas Day with my dad’s. It is very possible that my grandparents loved Christmas even more than their grandchildren. I remember these days with them as delightful times of festivities, food and love.

On Christmas Eve we would get ready and head over to Grandma Sue and Grandpa’s house in the late afternoon. My grandfather was a retired Lieutenant Cornel in the Army and acted kind of gruff, but we all knew that he was just a big softie inside. And that became evident on Christmas Eve as he played “Santa” and would methodically and excitedly pass out all the gifts.

After this exciting event, we would head home and get the house ready for Santa Claus to come. This included making sure our stockings over the fireplace were all ready for him to fill, as well as putting out some homemade cookies and milk for him to enjoy as our bribe for presents. Then came the agonizing night of waiting in anticipation to see what Santa had brought. But morning always came quickly and with it so did that magical feeling of Christmas.

Now in my adulthood, when Christmas approaches, I find myself naturally – almost unconsciously – moving in the same rhythm, seeking the same activities, and repeating these same traditions that I remember as a child. For me the Christmas season brings a state of being, that ushers in, that same child-like joy and wonder. I reminisce about all the meaningful times I spent with my family, especially family members and friends that are no longer with us. Part of keeping the joy of Christmas alive in my heart is continuing to celebrate and cherish these loved ones during these times.

I walk into this holiday season with the intention of creating new memories that I can continue to carry with me through the years. As I cruise through this season, I will work to spark that joy, love, wonder and excitement in others.

I pray you have a joyous Christmas and hope you are blessed to find true purpose and beauty in the memories you create with your families and loved ones this year. Merry Christmas!

This article was written by Communications Coordinator Megan Stanton.