December 23rd

We have a long standing tradition in my family on December 23rd.  For as long as I can remember, it’s the night we sleep under the Christmas tree.  You see, my parents always gave us the gift of incredible Christmas trees.  We went to the mountains as a family to choose and cut the finest tree and haul it home.  It went in the living room, where the vaulted ceiling rises two stories high, and it always touched the top.

In planning our trip to Grandma’s house for Christmas, the thing I was most excited for was sharing this special tradition with my children.  We always sleep under the tree on the 23rd, but doing it under such a large tree is doubly fun.  We went to the church for a night of games, relays, talent shows and dancing to help wear everyone out.

Imagine this group all sleeping on the floor in one room:

The three babies ended up in their cribs in other rooms, but the one missing grandchild in the picture above (my oldest) joined us for the party.

Grandma and Grandpa gave a flashlight to each child and we somehow found room on the floor for all of them (thankfully most are still under age 8).  We dimmed the lights…

slowly settled everyone down…

(I know that picture is totally blurry but somehow it captures the feeling in the room) and then I had the honor of reading the children to sleep.

I read one of my favorites:  Barbara Robinson’s The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.  We read it from cover to cover as the room slowly quieted and one child after another dropped off to sleep.  My six year old niece, however, lay just a few feet from where I sat.  She stayed awake the entire time, completely engrossed in the story.  She laughed so hard it made me laugh too.

My throat ached and I wondered if I’d have a voice in the morning.  Five girls stayed up way too late and it was a project to get them to hold still long enough to feel tired.  But it was wonderful.  There is something about reading children to sleep that makes you feel like all is right in the world.  Doing it by the light of a Christmas tree makes it even better.

Before we left for home after Christmas I talked to the children about treasures.  We talked about different kinds of treasures and I told them that memories are among the most precious treasures we have.  I think that those hours under the tree, reading a story, are my Christmas treasure.  I have a special bond with my little niece who laughed with me through the story.  I have a special memory of two people whispering “Goodnight, I love you” to each other as tears pricked at my eyes.  And when they had all settled down and gone to sleep, I sat there in the darkness listening to the sound of their breathing.  Eighteen people sleeping in one room together makes a small chorus of breathing that was worth remembering.  I sat in the darkness and listened to all the moms and dads in the other room talking and playing games together.  It was kind of fun to be the one that provided not just the story for the kids but the down time for the parents down the hall.  I sat there in the stillness of it all and looked at the tree, remembering many Christmases long ago as I lay in the same room, the same stillness, staring at the lights on the Christmas tree, listening to my Mom’s voice as she read stories to us, drinking in the wonder of the holiday, wondering about my future and what it held.

All these things rushed through my mind as I sat beneath the tree and a growing feeling of gratitude filled my heart.  Gratitude for my parents, for my brothers and sisters and all their children, for my husband, for my own children.  Gratitude for tradition, for life coming full circle in small ways as another generation comes along.  Gratitude for the anchor that tradition provides in a crazy world.

Thirty-three people sleeping under one roof.  It might have been my favorite night of the year:  December 23rd.


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