Really, they do.
I don’t think I’d properly begun to realize that until this semester, perhaps even this Christmas. You see Christmas used to be this great shining thing set gloriously at the end of the year. School let out, we opened all our presents and drank eggnog, then the next day we were off to my grandparents’ in dear old Brookfield, MO.
It was just us and my Aunt Amy’s family when we were kids. Mary and Peter and Jacob and I sat at the kids table and wreaked havoc. Grandma would proudly set out her little individual salt shakers, and we would spend Christmas dinner salting each other’s milk and making up stories about my brother George’s latest escapades. Even when it wasn’t mealtime we would sit at the card table playing long games of Mille Borne (Creve! Creve!) and Monopoly. Usually Monopoly. Peter was always the banker and he always won, Mary cheerfully came in second, I came third for lack strategy, and Jacob came dolefully last, because Peter always had it in for him. Thus began the illustrious cousin tradition of bending and even, yes, breaking the rules.
As we got older, and my Uncles Bill’s kids also began to descend en masse every Christmas, we played Mafia just to cheat and peek, and generally win unfairly. All part of cousin bonding, you know. There was also an official cousin basketball game, in which I was always the official photographer, a job I was very bad at. Here we are in 2007 after that year’s game.
As I remember, 2007 was a particularly red-letter Christmas. Emily brought her new husband André, and we took joy in initiating him and giving him the official stamp of cousin approval.
Some of these signatures are forged, but who’s telling which?
The other notable thing about Christmas 2007 was Poopsie. Billy and Hannah went into town with Grandpa one day for some inauspicious reason, and came back a couple hours later with a puppy. He (she? I can’t remember…) was very cute, and also entirely unhousebroken (thus the name…) It wasn’t until Christmas night, when Mary and Tina and Joe and I took him for a walk that he did his business outside for the first time and we rejoiced. Then, while star-tripping, Joe fell and got that business all over his jeans, and we rejoiced only slightly less. (“Joe! That was Poopsie’s Greatest Achievement, and you fell in it!”) Wonderful Christmas.
Since then we have had a few family reunions in hotels which have brought us to some truly marvelous locations, like this unique antique mall.
As you can probably see written all over my face there, that was the Christmas that eight of us girls crowded into one hotel room and stuck this sign on the door.
It truly was, my friend. Santa was spotted just down the hall.
Mostly, the thing about Christmas with cousins is that it is a lot of very tall people in a house with very low ceilings sitting on couches together singing carols and giggling.
Three or four days full of lots. Lots of jokes about pantyhose, lots of games of Authors, lots of re-watching of State Fair, lots of racing out to the cold breezeway to grab orange balls, lots of Christmas.
Here we are, last Christmas—grown, haven’t we?
This Christmas we couldn’t get there till the 23rd. It was the McLellans’ year off, Uncle Jon (better known as UJ) had done his familial duty at Thanksgiving, and as for Uncle Bill’s—Hannah and Billy had to work and couldn’t come, and Joe had already left for St. Louis. We had a nice evening, sang carols and all, and the next day an attempt was made at a cousin basketball game, which I rather spoiled, and that was it. The rest of them left. We went ahead and did the present opening on Christmas Eve, just to get it out of the way, it seemed. Christmas felt like any other Sunday, except quieter. Even in our unusually small numbers, we more than doubled the attendance at my grandparents’ sadly fading church. Merry Christmas and all that…
The holidays seemed to have matched my semester a little too well—quite lost from what I thought it would be. It all leaves me holding fast to the things that haven’t changed:
When we spent the night in Nashville, and the question of the evening’s entertainment was brought up, Peter Immediately said “We could play Monopoly…” and we all said “NO!”
When asked to pick a carol George made a show of deciding and then grumbled “We Three Kings.” It used to be the only song he’d sing with us, even in the summertime.
There was still a card table in the breezeway piled with cookies and leftovers.
A Christmas Carol was read aloud in the car, and It’s a Wonderful Life lives in that glorious black and white.
There’s something else too, that hasn’t changed. However I feel about the day, whether or not I even remember that it’s Christmas, it’s still the day Christ was born. It’s still the incredible beginning of God’s plan of redemption. It is a day that means even in the dreariest, most disenchanted place A SAVIOR IS BORN. Even when I’m drowning in self, and dull, adopted hurts, my God sent his Son as a baby, even more vulnerable and prone to tears than I am, that I might know hope. And that will not change.
Tomorrow is new day and a new year in which I get to serve a living God who came to save me. Please remind me when I forget. Please.