Still, still, still.

I started to post a few days ago about Christmas--about why I love it, about my traditions, about what I've learned in the last year or two about celebrating.

It wasn't quite working out. I almost gave up. But then I went back and looked closely.

I found that all I really wanted to do was tell you about my Grandma. Forget that other stuff.

It is probably too soon for me to write about this and it won't be tidy. It may not even make sense.

But I'm going to do it anyway.

I hope you don't mind.

* * * * *

Christmas was my grandma's favorite holiday and she celebrated it so well, she made it mine, too.

As a child, I remember waking up Christmas Eve, frosting Mom's sugar cookies then counting down the hours, the minutes, the seconds until Grandma's house. We'd eat lots of food (she always made too much) and then we'd open gifts.

If you watch one of our many home videos from such occasions, you will observe a sort of organized chaos.

Grandma always made the oldest grandkids pass out gifts, (which, as second-oldest, I secretly loved), so there are shouts of "Marie! Marie! This one's for you. This ONE'S FOR YOU!!!" and loud, inquisitive, slightly-panicked "Grandma! Grandma! What does this say?!" and impatient thrusting of gifts to aunts and uncles "Give this to Uncle Gene. UNCLE GENE." 

Then we'd settle in with our packages and let 'er rip. In a cloud of tissue paper and paper boxes (which were to be carefully unwrapped and used again next year), you really can hear the squeals of excitement.

I know it sounds like we were spoiled--and we were--but none of our gifts were really that extravagant. We got the usual fare of skirts, sweatshirts, trucks and dolls.

But they were all for us, from Grandma (and Grandpa...but we all knew he spent shopping trips sipping coffee in the food court), and somehow that fact alone made them special. Even if they weren't the name brand (and they usually weren't).

One December, after a few years had passed, Grandma sat us all down and said, "Now, kids, you're all getting older and just too hard to buy for. There will be no more big gifts. But I have this idea..." and a new tradition was born.  The grab bag!

All year, Grandma would stalk the drug store aisles for little items--batteries, socks, games, wallets, even underwear. She'd throw a party for her friends and they'd help her wrap all the gifts ("...and then we'd play chicken-foot," I can hear her say with a chuckle.).

On Christmas Eve, she'd haul out the bins of wrapped, unmarked gifts and each grandkid would take turns digging around, feeling for anything lumpy (underwear), heavy (flashlight), or jingly (change taped to a pack of gum). Then we'd open one...and then another...and at the end we'd barter our loot.

It was silly. It was the sort of thing that at face value may sound weird. But it quickly became a much-anticipated tradition. Who would open the underwear this year? Who would walk away with the most $2 bills? Who would trade a pack of cards for a scarf?

She loved it. We loved it. We loved her. She somehow managed to keep the excitement and anticipation alive in a bunch of teenagers. What a feat!

I have found myself thinking about her a lot this season--especially when passing those ridiculous singing toys that move and shake while blaring a warbly version of 'Jingle Bells'. She loved those things.

I've been thinking about her and tradition and loss and celebration. And how to celebrate in the midst of loss and how to hold on to tradition despite change in time and circumstance.

About how to rejoice in a time of "great joy" when you feel like crap. About how to find hope when things seem hard and big and ugly and a bit scarier then you'd like to admit.

I've been thinking about all of these things because Grandma isn't here to celebrate Christmas at all anymore...so now what?

I was driving home the other day and heard this song (last track) and I guess for me--for reasons I can't quite articulate, can't really even understand--this year especially, it is Christmas.

I can't tell you that next year your troubles will be miles away. I won't ask you to rock around a Christmas tree. I don't expect you to belt out joy to the world, especially if this is one of those hurting years.


Still, still, still...

--despite the big things, the scary things, the disappointment, hurt, bitterness, anger, hardship, struggle, strife--

...one can hear the falling snow.

And together, broken, perhaps knocked down even, but not destroyed, we

...dream, dream, dream of the Joyous day to come.

Merry Christmas, friends.