It was a quiet Christmas for us ... shared Christmas Eve with our good friends Katy and Todd and their German exchange student Sammy. It was the perfect exchange: I cooked, they did the dishes. (Any Christmas guests who jump up to do the dishes after dinner are welcome at MY table every year! Ha, ha.)
In keeping with tradition, I made a stop at the local World Market to pick up a couple loaves of stollen (Christmas bread) and the traditional exchange student gift: a book entitled A Thousand Places (in the U.S. and Canada) to Visit Before You Die. Sammy liked the gingerbread, but seemed unfamilar with stollen (I guess there are some moms who don't like to bake even in Germany!)
We played a bit in the snow (Chris snow boarded, Sarah tobogganed, Maddy ran in circles, the rest of us strolled at a leisurely pace), then had dinner and opened a present ... Then went upstairs to get a Wii demo from Katy and Todd. My Christmas gift was Wii Fit Plus, and Katy was sweet enough to get on the stamp pad and demo that for me. (I wasn't going to get on it and announce my weight to the entire room for all the fudge in the North Pole).
Things I learned this Christmas ...
* Mashed potatoes taste really good with a generous sprinkle of garlic and a healthy sploosh of horseradish. (Plus lots of butter, sour cream, and a handful of chopped parsley.)
* Mashed potatoes taste even better the next day when you mix leftovers with eggs, cream, Feta cheese, and onion, and pour it in a pie crust to bake like a quiche. Yum. A Christmas morning tradition in the making!
* When you arrive on time to the midnight mass (it was the first time we'd done this since we had the kids), expect to sit in the VERY last row of the cry room, next to the tone-deaf but wildly enthusiastic Knight who feels a personal responsibility to lead the entire room in song ... eight beats behind the organist. Joyful noise, indeed.
* Even if you put kids to bed well after midnight, be prepared to open gifts at 6 a.m. sharp.
* We don't have to travel a thousand or even a hundred miles to have a very merry Christmas. Cuddled up in the family room, we had the cuddliest and most fully present family time I can remember in recent memory. Fa-la-la-la-aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah.
* There really is no such thing as too many Christmas cookies ... I made six containers of the things, and between gifts and various functions, we are down to one small box. On Christmas day. Go figure.
* The most expensive presents are not usually the favorite presents. Sarah's favorite: a $5 box of "Princess and the Frog" press-on nails and manicure kit. Christopher's: $2 light sabers. My favorite: a small pottery jar from my parents, which I can use to melt chocolate for my "Heidi Hugs." Which, judging from the state of the cookie jar, I will need to use very soon.
* Most thought-provoking conversation, courtesy of Christopher, on our way to midnight Mass.
"Mom, Jesus wasn't very old when his father [Joseph] died, right?"
"Well, we don't know for sure, but many people think that he died when Jesus was young because he isn't mentioned later in the Scriptures."
"So why didn't Jesus didn't raise him from the dead, like he did Lazarus?"
"Hmm... Well, God gives every person a job to do when they come into the world. When they finish the job, and learn all the lessons God wants them to learn, they go to be with God. So maybe ... maybe Jesus knew that Joseph's job was to protect Jesus while he was small; once he became older -- like he was in the temple when Mary and Joseph found him -- Joseph finished his job. So it was time for him to go to be with God."
"So he went straight to heaven?"
"Well ... before Jesus died on the cross, all the people who loved God went to a place called 'Abraham's bosom,' sort of like purgatory. After Jesus died, the Bible says he went and released all those who trusted in God. St. Joseph -- and all the saints -- are in heaven with God now. Just as we will be one day, if we trust in Jesus to guide us to heaven ... after our work here on earth is done."
It was a bit of a twist on the traditional Christmas story ... at Christmas we tend to focus on birth rather than death. But Christopher's comment made me realize you can't really separate one from the other. Christmas and Easter. Manger and Cross. And who better to teach us this lesson ... than the Holy Family?