My dad was Santa. He would wear a cowboy-esque hat that read "ho ho ho" on it. My brother and I were responsible for handing out the presents to open. And after the living room overflowed with wrapping paper, cards, toys, clothes, and other presents, my mom would set about cooking a delicious dinner.
There were other traditions, too. How we trimmed the tree. What presents we opened on Christmas Eve. Going to church as a family and looking for Santa Clause in the sky.
Being married changes the holidays. It's been four years since I spent Christmas is Texas, pretending to be cold as we sat by the fire. My life collided with my husband's life. And even though my family is hours away, we're lucky enough to be close to his family and be able to celebrate with them.
But it's still hard. For me and for him. Probably for our families too. Because it's not that I don't love my in-laws - I really do (in fact I am amazed by just how lucky we are to have the families we do), but I miss my family and all the things we did for years and years.
So it's balancing act. Because my husband has his traditions too. And we're trying to have traditions for just our family.
One of our traditions, started just last year, is not buying presents for one another. We get so much from our families that it seems almost wasteful to buy presents for one another. So instead, we buy presents for children who need them.
There are over 8000 children in foster care in the state of Oklahoma. And all those children need and deserve Christmas presents. So this year, we did just as we had in 2010, and bought presents for children instead of for each other.
I can't say its easy. There is a part of me that would prefer to spend money on myself or on my husband. But that's not the reason for Christmas. And to think that one gift could light up a child's face on Christmas seems so much more important.
I got to attend a party thrown by a local bank. The bank was a donation site for the Christmas presents, and my heart was filled with joy, probably for the first time this season, when I saw how many presents were under the tree at the party. Especially considering the fact that I knew there would be even more presents delivered before Christmas.
In the future, I hope to have children at our home for Christmas. And my hope is to be able to care for those children who need a stable home until they can go back to their families. If they aren't able to return to their families, my hope is to invite them into ours and to their forever family (if you want to know what a forever family is, please watch this and be prepared to tear up).
The thing about giving gifts for children in foster care is that you will never know who receives the presents or how much they light up. I had the chance once, when I was a social worker, to watch three children open their gifts. I think of that day every year. Their smiles were brighter than any I had ever seen. Remembering that day, remembering those children, it helps me to hold onto the tiniest bit of Christmas spirit.
But I also feel like I am not doing enough. I have such a huge desire to open my home and bring in children and families and to do all these things I have hope to do. Now is not the time, though. There will be a time, sometime in the future, but now is not it.
So I will continue to give gifts for Christmas to the children in foster care. And we will continue on our other traditions - like
Since Christmas is on a Sunday this year, our church is holding service on 5:30pm on Christmas Eve. And while my parents will be in Texas and I will be in Oklahoma, I'll be able to continue a tradition of attending church on Christmas Eve and maybe spotting Rudolph pulling Santa's sleigh.
I've realized, too, what is important about Christmas. It's not about the gifts or playing Santa Clause. It's about who I spend the time with. It's about remembering the reason for Christmas - for me. It's about looking back at the year with a thankful heart and then looking forward to the next year with a hopeful heart.
I mentioned weeks ago my hope to be in a better spirit this year for the holidays, and I've failed. I've spent more time crying and sad and frustrated than happy. The season is almost over now, but I can spend the next days happy and thankful and celebrating the family I have, the life I have, and the reason for the season.
So from our family of four to you (wherever you might be this season), Merry Christmas, and I hope that you are able to join me in finding the spirit of Christmas and the reason for the season.
(title from "why do i" by joe purdy)