The air is crisp as the sun sets on a late December day. I walk up the familiar stairs, and the door is opened before me. Stepping over the threshold my senses are filled. I smell the cooking of turkey, ham, and all the sides. I hear the music of carols and the overflow of conversations in full swing.
As I enter the sitting room, I’m met with turned heads and wide smiles. Weaving through the crowds of kisses and hugs I make my way to my grandmother, her hug just a bit longer than the rest. She tells me she bought olives and pickles just for me and takes me to them. I enter the living room and am once again greeted by the many smiling faces of my family. Sitting in the corner, lit perfectly, ornaments hung with care is the Christmas tree with packages for us all.
All of the children are playing outside and the bells of reindeer are heard as we search the sky for Santa’s sleigh.
It’s Christmas Eve. It’s a powerful night full of laughter and love, sisters and brothers, nephews and nieces, grandparents and grandchildren, all celebrating together. It’s a night that draws our family together so that we are closer when we are apart. As a child the night seems so normal, so easy, so common. I never understood its impact until the celebration was over, and my grandmother’s tradition was no more.
My grandmother was a southern woman who was born and raised in one town. When she was married, she moved onto her family’s property where she and my grandfather built their home and grew their family. Through the years she raised five children and worked to put them through college. From those five came thirteen, and from those thirteen have come twenty-one more.
In her children she bestowed the truth that in this world you have each other before anyone else. That the love of your siblings is the basis from which all love will follow. When you speak, you speak well of one another and never let a harsh word pass your lips. My grandmother raised her children to look at the world and see its beauty, to live in the light of the day. So many have their eyes focused on the darkness that surrounds us, but if you affix your eyes on the red of a rose its thorns can not be seen. These are the lessons that she lived in her life, to be kind, to be positive, to be proud, and to live with purpose.
My grandmother’s purpose was to raise the best family in this world. To build in it the traditions that would ensure the relationships of her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Traditions are created by the will of a person to see their family return and share in their lives. For my grandmother, Christmas Eve was her tradition and each year that we all gathered we grew closer as we grew older. We shared in the lessons that she gave to our parents and shared in the vision of what a family should be. It should be kind, positive, proud and live with purpose.
The last Christmas Eve we celebrated at my grandmother’s we told stories, we laughed, children played and someone heard the bells on Santa’s reindeer as they searched the night sky. In twenty three years of my life I watched our family grow around this graceful woman’s hope and love. That night we didn’t know it would be the last Christmas Eve we would share, but it was as special as the first I ever remember.
The last time I spoke to her, she gave me one last gift and showed me what it means to live with hope in this world. Standing in the hospital room, my cousin and I held her hands as she laid in bed, and as we both expressed our love to her, she told us that she knew we would live amazing lives. That she was proud of who we had become. She gave us her strength at a time when her body was weak, but her spirit was strong. Her tradition had come to an end and it was our time to build the traditions of our families to come. To learn from her example and by her example build kind, positive, proud families that live with purpose.
Following her passing the family gathered, her family. To have a final celebration, to tell stories, to laugh, to cry, to watch children play. And though no one heard the ringing of bells from reindeer that day, they continue to ring in the hearts of all her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.