It’s the stuff of Christmas! Part excitement/part wonder- with a good dose of anxiety mixed in. (Naughty? Nice? Did Santa see that?)
Back in the day, (yeah, we’re going there again…) there used to be a ketchup commercial where the glass-bottled ketchup was tilted precariously above a tasty burger. During the duration of the commercial, everyone waited for the first drop of ketchup to slowly plop out, while Carly Simon sang her famous tune Anticipation. And I do mean s-l-o-w-l-y… If you’ve ever used ketchup from a glass bottle (which is way cooler than its more convenient cousin, ketchup in a plastic container) then you know the secret why they invented the plastic squeeze bottle in the first place!
Glass may be retro-cool, but that ketchup took forever! Anticipation, indeed. After that commercial, any time we had to wait-or make someone else wait, (always more fun!) we would sing “Anticipation,” as a joke.
Anticipation is more than just waiting, it is defined as “a feeling of excitement about something that is going to happen, or the act of looking forward.” Merriam Webster online also offers up a second definition, “the use of money before it is available.” I had never heard that particular definition before, but unfortunately, I have lived it!
So begins the tale of Christmas, anticipation, & me-or rather, us.
Once upon a time our little family of five moved from Chicago to Pennsylvania. Because we were young and crazy, we moved when I was nine months pregnant, and our fourth baby came a few weeks later on December 5th. It was a busy time. We were financially strapped, my husband was learning his new job, we had one car, and cherry on top-Pennsylvania seemed to miss the snow day and slid right into a snow year! Oh, and Christmas was coming with all that entails, there is that. Plus we were on one side of the country, and our family was way out west. We were feeling overwhelmed and wondering if we had made the right decision. Although joyful, those early years can be rough.
But help was on the horizon. That particular year, my mom surprised us by calling and telling us she was going to be making our Christmas “extra special” that year. She and my dad knew it had been a transitional time, and said not to count on other years being as special, but that this year’s gift was a one-time thing.
Oh, were we excited! And so, with visions of a big fat check with more than one zero, we anticipated the holiday with glee!
Finally, after all the challenges of the past few months, we would be able to sit back, relax, and enjoy the holidays. We ticked off the days advent-style…stringing popcorn and cranberries, making ginger men, cutting down the tree, sipping hot cocoa, and sledding. We decorated, baked, wrapped, and anticipated Santa’s arrival and my parent’s generosity. I don’t know who was more excited for Christmas to come that year-the kiddos or us!
Oh yes, Christmas Cheer was alive and well in the Williamson household!
(Or you could skip the carols & give some Christmas Cash!
That spreads Christmas cheer too, I hear!)
‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all I could think was… Would it really be bad form to get up before the little people in our household? We concluded it would definitely be very Grinchy to do that, so we waited them out. Eventually, we heard them stirring.
Christmas morning had finally come!
We scrambled out of bed, shoved past our children on the stairs, rushed the Christmas tree, and tore into the colorful wrapping paper…knowing smiles on our faces. Imagine our surprise when out spilled a framed 8 x 10 of my folks, then a couple of 5 x 7’s and then…you guessed it…wallets! Wait! What was this? Photos? And more photos? What about the Christmas “Special Surprise?” The “once in a blue moon” gifting? Maybe it’s in the card-but no…(This was turning out to be a jelly-of-the-month club kick-in-the-pants for sure).
After our initial shock and awe, we noticed that our kids saw something in those pictures that we in our greed had missed. They were busy oohing and ahhing over the pictures, “Look it’s Grandma and Grandpa!” We noticed it was a “posed” picture, and my parents had never, ever taken a picture together like that. At least not since 1958…and that was for their wedding picture. Their Christmas Eve wedding picture. Yup, they were married on Christmas Eve same as my grandparents. I felt awful, and it wasn’t just the fudge with hot chocolate chaser I’d downed that made my tummy lurch. I was glad Santa had already visited or I would have surely had enough coal to fuel my winter.
They had gotten professional pictures done to commemorate a special anniversary, and to help the grandkids that lived so far away from them remember.
Arghh…I felt so selfish. What a scrooge I was!
I’m ashamed to say it took us longer than it should have to share completely in the sweet enthusiasm our little children displayed over those pictures.
Oh, and speaking of displays…after that Christmas we had framed pictures on our bookcases, askew on our end tables, 2 x 3’s by each kids bed, and showcased in our wallets. It felt some days as if their eyes were staring at us accusingly from the frames.
The funny thing was, it really was the best gift ever, because we really enjoyed the holiday season to it’s fullest that year.
Since we perceived the financial pressure to be off, our focus leading up to Christmas was entirely on our little family, and celebrating each day.
We spent quality time doing and being and not hustling and bustling.
We never did fess up our dashed expectations to our parents, (although we did ask the sibs what they got-just out of curiosity, of course), and I’m still ashamed to admit I was so mercenary about anticipating Christmas cash. That year we learned an important lesson; that “special” gifts aren’t about $$$, and that we had interpreted their idea of “extra special” to fit what we thought would be “special.” We still laugh about that memory and call it the gift that keeps on giving.
And as for me?
I decided right then to separate the expectation part from the something is going to happen part of anticipation.
My four young kiddos taught me a treasured lesson that year.
Christmas magic is indeed found in the little snapshots.