Similar to any new family, when our son was born thirty-six years ago, holidays, and especially Christmas, took on an intricate dance of inherited family traditions, blended customs, and grafted offshoots of differing styles.
We found ourselves adding ornaments to commemorate a milestone or special event each year, filling our tree with eclectic memories. When our young son tired of turkey so soon after Thanksgiving, we replaced a traditional dinner with his request, so chicken enchiladas, not holiday turkey, now grace our table.
Gradually we settled into what felt right for our emerging family, embracing our own traditions - everything from how the house was decorated to the way we opened our presents on Christmas morning. We debated the role of Santa, settling on a compromise, and integrating time-honored traditions from each family.
These outer expressions of inner feelings, actualized through annual traditions add joy, comfort, connection, family, and home to an already punctuated season brimming with meaning. I find these familiar rituals, as well as the sending of holiday greetings to friends who I may only communicate with at Christmastime but hold deeply in my heart, restorative. So whether it's cookie baking now with little granddaughters, or tree decorating, I love this reflective, family, spiritual time of year.
But, there is one custom that stands at the heart of our family's traditions. For us, it wouldn't be Christmas without exchanging letters. I don't know how long we've been writing Christmas letters to each other, or how adding a sentiment on a card evolved to a full-blown, thoughtful letter. It wasn't a tradition we borrowed from either family. But our letter exchange grew to become the morning's best gift, and the last one opened.
We tuck letters into the tree's branches, everyone writing one for each member of the family. Some years they take hours to write with tears blurring the ink. Other years they're written in a few dozen minutes. But they're always written with love. Messages affirm dreams, celebrate relationships and milestones, honor uniqueness, revisit loss or disappointments. They cover any topic the writer chooses, offering hope and encouragement, noting personal growth, embracing the future, saying thanks, professing love.
While these handwritten thoughts comprise wonderful messages, every Christmas something more happens. Our simple words are transformed into magical instruments of the Christmas Spirit. They become the gifts for the soul, savored as out-pouring love when written, and in-pouring love when read. You see, in the scheme of things, sharing love is Christmas. There's no other gift I'd rather receive or give. And if it were the only gift we had to give each other, it would be a bountiful Christmas.
(c) 2012 Nan S. Russell. All Rights Reserved.
Nan S. Russell is the award-winning author of "Hitting Your Stride: Your Work, Your Way." Her third book, "The Titleless Leader," was published May 2012. More about Nan and her work can be found at www.nanrussell.com. Sign up to receive Nan's free monthly eColumn at: www.intheschemeofthings.com