Unloading the dishwasher this time is almost a sacrament. Plastic Rudolph and Santa dishes are handled with the same care as the Christmas china and crystal. I put each piece away slowly, remembering the precious hands that held them, loving the fact that items reserved for the season are used and not just put on display. They are only dishes. But the people they have served this past month are extraordinarily special to me so at the moment my feelings extend to these cups, plates and glasses.
The house is so quiet. So quiet. Most of the time I appreciate that peacefulness. But at the moment it feels … empty, too quiet, like something is missing. Because something is missing. Children and grandchildren, siblings and cousins. They’ve come and gone and my favorite time of the whole year is once again history.
I love everything about Christmas. The focus on Christ as King and His redemption story. Lights on the house, in the house and on the tree. The lovely Spode Christmas Tree china, of which I have a plethora, grandly resting in the lighted china cabinet, used at almost every meal of the season. The framed Christmas puzzles representing hours of family time sorting and matching the pieces. The manger scene on the shelf, made of olive wood from the holy land, complete with the holy family, donkey, shepherd and sheep, wise men and camels off in the distance following the star that will lead them to the Messiah. The small wooden statue of a boy kneeling in prayer before a church. Dozens of items on the Christmas shelf for little hands to play with and rearrange. Christmas cookies in familiar shapes with colored icing and sprinkles. Divinity in all its sugary glory. Fudge – without nuts for me, mom and my brother, with nuts for my husband. Decorative floor boxes with my collection of Christmas books for children. The Christmas tree: skirt handmade by my grandmother at the bottom, the angel at the very top, sandwiching a multitude of assorted ornaments both new and from decades past, hanging monuments to the people and places that have touched our lives; strings of individual colored lights – not too large and definitely not blinking.
I love all of it. But the thing I love the most is having family at the house. To my heart’s delight my daughter and her family still come and spend a week with us, filling our home with love, energy, and children tramping up and down the stairs and through the dining room and wonderfully underfoot in the kitchen. The older grands bring devices and charging cords now instead of dolls and stuffed animals, and we play chess and cards instead of Candyland. The four year old gets out the Hot Wheels tracks, train set, plays at the Lego table, and selects books for me to read. We go as a group to the Trail of Lights, choose a night to watch The Santa Clause, participate in Blue Santa, and find time for a bit of last minute Christmas shopping. The adults get pockets of time to visit in between mealtimes and bedtimes and naptimes. I get to enjoy my children as adult friends and my grands as my happy place.
I’m never ready for them to leave. But the day comes when they are packed and ready to head home. For several years now Emily and I have been able to say goodbye without tears, and Alex is happy to be going wherever Mom and Dad are, but Molly and I still have a hard time with goodbyes. We settle on saying “See you later” with a hug and put on brave faces.
I place the last dish in the cabinet and begin to look around for anything left behind. I spy a teenage shoelace on the kitchen table. Upstairs in a guest room I find a little girl’s blue satin eye pillow. In the grandkids room I see a little boy’s If You Give a Mouse a Cookie book face down on the shelf. My smile returns – they haven’t completely left.