On the day before Christmas Eve Dom came down with some stomach bug, or maybe food poisoning. That night after we tucked them in, while I was settling Lucy down to sleep, I overheard Bella and Sophie praying the rosary for the intention of “Daddy feeling better for Christmas.” Their little voices alternated between speaking and singing the prayers. It was a beautiful sound. After I put Lucy down, I poked my head in to tell them how lovely it was. Sophie told me, “We prayed the whole rosary!” When I asked them which mysteries they prayed, Bella told me, “The appropriate ones. The Joyful ones for Christmas.”
The next day he was feeling better. Enough so that it looked like we’d be able to have our traditional Feast of the Seven, or rather Five, Fishes. The children love setting the table with the table cloth, switching out the purple and pink candles for red and adding the white candle in the middle of the wreath. They sat around the table while we finished preparing the last of the food, just marveling at the glory of the night. When we lit the candles we sang Joy to the World instead of O Come O Come Emmanuel. Then we feasted on lobster, steamed clams, seared scallops, crab cakes, and shrimp cocktails.
After dinner the children had sugar cookies and then scurried off to bed after prayers and opening the last door of the Advent calendars and reading our two traditional bedtime stories of the Nativity story (read from the Medieval Christmas book with the gorgeous pictures) and The Night Before Christmas. Dom and I watched a bit of It’s a Wonderful Life while I wrapped a last couple of things.
Then at a quarter to eleven Bella poked her head out. She was heading to the bathroom but Dom told her not to bother to go back to bed. She got dressed and I did her hair while Dom tried to get the boys up and dressed. But Ben was having none of it. He was already a little sad because our parish isn’t having a Midnight Mass so we were going to a different church. If you don’t have total buy-in and excitement, getting kids up a couple hours after they’ve gone to sleep is pretty impossible. Ben cried and cried and I could tell it wasn’t going to get better. So Dom and I conferred and decided that I’d take the two big girls and we’d let the little ones sleep. Dom would take them in the morning. (My first assumption was that he’d take them, but he remembered that two years ago it was I who was sick and missed Mass to stay at home with the littles. He knows how much I love it, so volunteered to stay home.
So I got Sophie up and brushed and the three of us set out in the dark and rain (so very different from last year’s dusting of snow!) to St Edith Stein. When we got there the church windows were glowing. I could hear music as we walked up the stairs. Inside the lights were blazing, the altar aglow with poinsettias. And the priest, who knows Dom, walked up to me and greeted us warmly, asked where Dom was, and wished us a very Merry Christmas. We stopped and knelt before the nativity scene.
A few minutes later as we sat and sang Christmas carols with the choir, a friend from our home parish slipped into the pew behind us with a warm Christmas greeting. With the music and the greetings and the church so beautiful, it was easy to feel warm and homely.
Mass started simply with the cantor asking everyone to kneel. Then the priest and one altar server walked out carrying incense and knelt before the nativity and blessed it with the incense. Then they walked up the aisle to the back of the Church and we all stood and sang as the full procession came back to the front of the church. The music wasn’t anything special, but it was all our favorite Christmas hymns. The readings all made me feel a good kind of shivery. The homily was quite good, and I had two bright eyed girls cuddling up with me, sleepy but happy. They weren’t the only children in the church either.
Finally Mass was over with a last two songs and we stopped to look at the manger once more and then with a few Christmas greetings, we headed back home in the rain. The girls had a cookie and a glass of eggnog each and then put out cookies and eggnog for Santa.
No sooner were they tucked into their beds and Dom and I resettled in the office, wanting to give them a bit of time to drift off before we began putting out presents, then Anthony wandered in, crying, and curled up with me for a bit. I snuggled him until he fell asleep and then carried him back to his bed. Then I filled the stockings and we carried out the presents and stockings and laid them under the tree. Then I ate the cookies, had some eggnog, took a shower, and tumbled into bed at about 3:30.
And of course I was up before 7. Lucy and I weren’t allowed our leisurely snuggle, no, we had to go out for the great present opening. Oh but I wasn’t grumbling much. The prospect of watching five kids tear into their gifts is enough to warm all but the grinchiest hearts. And there was much joy. I felt I’d done pretty well this year.
Soon Ben was building with castle blocks, Sophie was wandering the house shooting her new bow and arrow and hugging her new doll. Anthony was playing with his new knights and wearing his new armor. Lucy was brandishing her very own sword and shield, Bella was contemplating her new chess/checkers set.
We had breakfast and Dom and the boys left for Mass.
I listened to some Christmas carols, read Sophie and Bella their new books, read some of Lucy’s book, wished a bunch of Facebook friends a Merry Christmas. I didn’t get out of my pajamas until almost noon. Then I did have to get up to make the food to take to Christmas dinner: green beans with pancetta, caramelized onions, and a vinegar/wine reduction. We also took a veggie and hummus plate and then fudge and challah I’d made the day before.
Christmas dinner at Dom’s brother’s house is a joyful, noisy affair. With his two sisters and two brothers, his parents, and some twenty grandkids, it’s a crowd. There was a baked ham, manicotti, eggplant parmigiana, baked brie balls, spanikopita, rolls, cheese and crackers, a fruit plate, and then desserts: Sicilian cheesecake, cookies, chocolate dipped pretzels. And probably other stuff I’m forgetting.
The weather had cleared up and it was warm. The big kids ran around outside. The littles played inside. Bella fell in the mud and had to borrow some pants. The oldest kids sat and chatted with the adults. There were presents and stories, and arguments about politics. We got home at about dinner time, had some mac and cheese for the kids and leftovers for the adults. With lots of whining and yelling, and finally got them all to bed.
The wonderful thing is, since Christmas is a whole season, and not just a day, the wonder is just beginning. There will be time for more Christmas books and time for more Christmas desserts. Time for more presents. The day after Christmas is a triple holiday for us: my sister’s birthday, my youngest brother’s patronal feast, and my baptismal anniversary. Then we still have Lucy’s birthday and Epiphany coming up. So much more to celebrate. So much joy in this blessed season.
And some sadness too. A friend’s father died the day before Christmas, another friend’s father died early Christmas morning. A friend’s long-suffering daughter died today. My nephew had knee surgery Christmas Eve. My sister-in-law’s brother-in-law died unexpectedly today. Friends are sick, dealing with sick relatives, with family tragedies, with disease and loss, and joblessness. So much pain and yet this is all precisely why we need Christmas, why we need a God who comes into the world to bear our suffering with us. I pray tonight that everyone whose Christmas has come with pain and sadness and loneliness and disappointment will also find peace and joy in the birth of the Christ Child. God bless us, everyone.