When I was young (pre-college and pre-marriage), Christmas was an "extended-family" affair. As I remember it (and I admit that it has been quite a few years ago now), Christmas morning was at our house. But there were a lot of family gatherings: at my great-grandparents on the Armstrong side (with the sticky popcorn balls and the scary pictures of dead ancestors on the second floor) and at grandparents on both sides of the family. The Armstrong side was smaller (just ten of us, with the occasional visit from the Palmers or Aunt Sharon's family) and more sedate. The Huber side was larger, with more cousins who were a little more rambunctious.
When Gina and I were first married, Christmas really got out of hand for a while. We had at least seven Christmas celebrations (not counting our own). And since all of our family lived within 30 miles of each other, we were expected to try and hit all of them. It was rough on the babies (and, hence, on us) some years.
Over the past several years, Christmas has fallen in to a more comfortable flow. Typically, we attend the Christmas Eve candlelight service at our home church in Ft. Scott, KS. Christmas morning is at Gina's folks - a big breakfast with eggs, bacon, biscuits, and gravy - with her sisters and their families. Then presents and lunch. Most often we will then head in to my Mom's for Christmas with her and my brother and his family and my grandmother. Our traditional Christmas dinner is deep-fried shrimp (and chicken strips for those crazy people who don't like shrimp). Then presents. For many years, it also included the "grandkids" trying to figure out a way to catch Santa delivering the Christmas stockings. They never succeeded, though Stacy claims to have seen him in 1993. That was our last Christmas with my Dad. It's hard to believe that it has been 13 years.
But this Christmas was different. For the first time in 50 years, Gina wasn't with her parents on Christmas. For the first time in 48 years, I wasn't with my mom. Because of Stacy's recent surgery, we decided to stay in Springdale. We missed being with brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews. We missed being with our parents.
But, in my mind, it was also a special Christmas. For the first time, it was just our family. We had the big, traditional Christmas breakfast - eggs, bacon, biscuits, and gravy. We opened presents. We took naps. We watched movies. We played dominoes. And it was good.
Who knows when it will happen again. Things are in transition. We don't know for sure where Erin will be next year or what her work schedule will be like. Stacy will be graduating from college in a couple of years. Changes are coming.
And though it took Stacy's surgery to make it happen, and though we missed being with our extended family, God did bless us with, for the first time, a very special Christmas at our house.