The first snow of the year has me thinking of my favourite Christmas.
I’m sure most of you have one. It’s the year that sets the blueprint for all others, that becomes a symbol for whatever it is you think the holiday season is about. For me it was Christmas 2008, when my family reunited from opposite coasts in a snow-covered farm house in the mountains of B.C.’s interior.
The intervening years have bestowed on what we now call the Smith Family Homemade Christmas a perfection that radiates more magic as times goes on.
I was done the first semester of my second year at university and coming home for the holidays was about the most exciting thing. With each new semester, I was sure I’d changed completely when really all I’d done was read a few more books.
At the suggestion of my parents, we decided to forgo the madness of long shopping mall lines and make everything ourselves. There were a few exceptions — second hand gifts were allowed within a small price point — but for the most part we spent the days and weeks leading up to December 25 trying to find the most creative way to say “Merry Christmas.”
My youngest sister was still in high school, and by the time my middle sister, older brother and I arrived home from our respective East Coast schools, it was crunch time. Our pre-Christmas days were spent scattered around the spacious farmhouse frantically trying to finish gifts.
Here’s one of the downsides to anyone considering DIY: what you save in money, you lose in the many hours spent sewing, writing, baking, fretting.
We put in time doing our best to hand-craft physical gifts—I sewed a purse for my sister, my mom made a guitar strap for my brother—but the bulk of the gift-giving was about who could weave the best story, i.e. who could make the others cry the most.
That’s the second downside: these homemade Christmases tend to come with lots of tears. The gift-giving rules gave us the rare opportunity to tell each other exactly how we felt. Maybe that’s why we haven’t had one since. They take it out of you.
My dad wrote a song about watching me grow up and move away. I went the other way and with the help of my sisters penned a short story about what it felt like to come home. I hadn’t read it in years, but my mom sent it to me over the weekend, and even now I have trouble getting through it.
Some of those gifts became something more. Now, they’re a part of Christmas we try to revisit each year, like the homemade chocolate Turtles that my dad made (my mom’s favourite), and the imaginative re-telling of a Christmas story that upped the ante on what was already one of our Christmas Eve staples.
Looking back, it was one of the last times we were all together for the holidays — moving, spouses and all the rest now keep us apart.
I asked my husband to tell me about his favourite Christmas. It was one he spent with his two grown brothers and parents in an apartment overlooking the Lunenburg Harbour. They’d just sold their house in Old Town, and it was the first year they weren’t gathering together in their family home. It was a bittersweet holiday, he told me, one that proved who you spend Christmas with is much more important than where you spend it.
Growing up makes that more difficult. It’s hard to get everyone under one roof, that’s why having traditions that travel is so important. They’ve helped keep the feeling of a Smith family Christmas going, even when the Smith family can’t all be in the same place.
Christmas ‘08 forced my family to create our own stories that in my mind are right up there with The Night Before Christmas or Miracle on 34th Street.
Since then, my parents have turned one of their go-to Christmas Eve stories, a take on Good King Wenceslas, into a full-fledged radio play, complete with original songs by my mom, dad and youngest sister. The best gift my middle sister and I received our first Christmas in Lunenburg came unwrapped, in an email with an MP3 file attached.
So if you happen to find yourself away from family this Christmas, consider sending a creative homemade gift. It’s a heartfelt way of showing someone you care, and it doesn’t have to cost a thing.