Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Year I Threw Mary & Joseph Away

When I was a child, our family embraced and celebrated many customs and family traditions. These Rituals made me feel happy inside. They kept our family unity constant over the years. We all knew that we could count on those special things - ceremonies, decorations and the making of traditional special foods and cookies year after year. Holidays became family centered even during the toughest times.

Once I grew up, I brought these traditions into my own family, adding more each year to the busy-ness of it all. We added yet another string of lights and I found more recipes to try. There were scheduled Holiday customs like going to the mountains to cut down our Christmas tree on a wintery day. I knew it was important for my children to grow up with these family bonding experiences the same way I had.

Setting out the Nativity was a sacred part of decorating for Christmas. The cherished set my parents had would be handled so carefully as not to break the ceramic figuines. Over the years, I had collected my own beautiful Fontinini Nativity set, piece by piece. I cherished the set for its beauty and its usability. The figurines would allow little hands to pick up them up and play with them with no fear of breakage. I would never have to scold children for handling the pieces or tell them “not to touch”. As more pieces were added, the absence of a third wise man did not bother me. How do we know there were three wisemen anyhow? No one really knows for sure.

Angels became another collection of significance as I became so aware of their existence through miracles I had witnessed and lived through. One Christmas, I wrote about the presence Angels in my life and shared it with family and friends. Soon, relatives began presenting me with angel figurines of all types! It warmed my heart to see the angels all over our house, reminders of God’s protection.

Our storage boxes were growing in number and with that, the added tasks of putting out, hanging up, taking down and putting away until the next year. Trying to make all of our favorite kinds of Christmas cookies became a burden while trying to get the family off to services and performances. Nevertheless, persevere I did, all in the effort to keep “more” of the *Magic*.

Occasionally an ornament would break, maybe one from when I was a child. Often an old school project decoration made by my child’s little hands would be found crumbling in the bottom of the box. I experienced different levels of heartache with each loss depending on the sentiment attached to the item.

One particular year changed everything - our family broke apart. The big “D”. I knew that our customs and traditions were needed more than ever, especially for the children. But, with each one came a painful realization of what had just been “lost”. The memories, even the happiest ones, would bring each of us to tears at one time or another… We all forged ahead in spite of the changes and each of us tried to keep our chins up and go forward, believing that Christmas *Magic* is about more than just our memories of the past.

Over time, there were new friends, new loves and new places to go. I slowly started to crave simplification and ease with how we would move through our Holidays and Family Traditions. I recognized a need to create space to embrace the new. This became especially important as I remarried and our family took on another new shape.

Little by little, I started weeding out the more ordinary mementos from the massive collections stored in boxes and bins that were marked “Xmas”. Hanging on to so many things was not giving me that satisfaction that I once thought it would. I gave away some ornaments and some of the homemade projects were boxed and thrown in the trashcan. It was somewhat sad, but also liberating. The progress was slow, but the paring down continued spurred on by the realization that we had just “hung on” to too much and that all that “stuff” was just bogging us down. No one missed the items that were gone… No one was asking where it all went.

One year, as I unpacked my beautiful Fontanini Nativity, I could not find Mary and Joseph! As I frantically tore through old boxes and the wrappings, a realization hit my heart with the impact of a sledgehammer. I knew what had happened. In my quest to downsize the decoration inventory, I had accidentally thrown out a box that the Mary and Joseph figurines had been placed in the year before. I was horrified! How would I explain this to my future little grandchildren as they were learning the Christmas story? That their Grandma had “lost” the little Baby’s parents?!

It took me a while to see the significance of my sad loss. At first, I was afraid to display the Baby Jesus without Mary and Joseph present to take care of their Little One. It seemed sacrilege to put out an incomplete set. Then, over time, I reasoned that the Angel, the Sheppard, the Wise Men and even the awestruck barn animals had the Baby Jesus’ back. Surely, they will take care of him in the absence of his parents.

I looked in stores to replace the missing figurines only to find that the set that I had was currently unavailable. This left me to struggle with the phenomenon, year after year. I continued to place the incomplete set out for display and found that its beauty still took my breath away. It told the story even though Mary and Joseph were missing. My admission of my error of why there are missing figurines told to wondering little faces will someday assure them that I am human, make mistakes and have regrets. The story of the Nativity will still be told, the way it should be.

During these years, I discovered that it is not up to me to keep the “constant” of the Holidays for myself or anyone else… nor can I “create” a perfectly complete Christmas. There is a gift in accepting that there will be more evolving circumstances and that changes will occur as the years roll by. Many people travel through our lifetime… And, the mistakes, the losses, the changing customs – it is all OK. The real Christmas *Magic* remains. It is constant. And the real “Gift” is to Believe.


Ehren Fish said...

Thankfully I personally have not had to experience the kind of severe family dynamic changes mentioned here, however this puts into perspective that which I have recently been supporting a close friend through. Maybe I will point her to this post...

Linda Huffman said...

what a wonderful story to share. I grew up with traditions too. Family get togethers, recipes and other experiences. my girls have had been exposed to many traditions and as they get out on their own, making their way through life, I hope some of our traditions continue and look forward to how they make new ones with their loved ones. we went through a rough patch a couple years ago and almost had the big D ourselves, but over the holidays realized we wanted to stay together and we are so happy we did. God worked wonders for us. I know he will watch over our kids and bless them as they grow into the adults they are meant to be. Happy Holidays...