Over 70 years ago, my mom was just a sweet, little 5-yr old girl living in a small town in California. She’d been hearing her friends talk about Santa Clause in December, and how if you hang a stocking on your fireplace, Santa Clause would fill it with candy and toys if you had been good. My grandparents weren’t raised with the standard traditions of Christmas being all that important, but my mom certainly didn’t know it. Mom didn’t have a stocking, nor had she ever heard of Santa Clause. They didn’t even have a fireplace in their small house, but on that Christmas Eve she took one of her light blue socks and taped it to her door in hopes that Santa would show up. On Christmas morning, she got up, excited to see what she had received. She ran to where the sock was hanging and it was still there…untouched and empty. Her little heart was crushed and she thought maybe she wasn’t good enough, or maybe her friends had lied to her.
After Christmas, Mom took a ride with her dad (my “Pop” that I adored), and he asked her if she liked what she had gotten for Christmas. It was then then she told him about the sock. As they talked, eventually the subject of the Easter Bunny came up and Mom asked Pop, “Do you think the bunny will leave me candy if I have a basket?” Pop replied, “I think he will.” That Easter season, Mom put out her basket, and when she woke up the next morning, her basket contained a package of Heath bars. Her heart knew, even at that young age, that Pop made sure she wasn’t disappointed again.
Fast forward to Christmas in our family this year. My mom is now living with my husband and I, and my Dad is living in a memory care facility. This is our first Christmas on this new journey, and it has brought many logistical and emotional changes. I’ve woken up at my parents’ house for Christmas my entire life. Even as adults, we spent the night with them. This year, I woke up with my husband in our house, the one we now all share together. It felt strange not packing up on Christmas Eve to go to my parents’ house for the night. I knew my Christmas morning would feel different too. Mom, for the past 30 years or so, woke us all up at 5:00 am by loudly playing The Christmas Song by Nat King Cole. It’s impossible for me to hear the opening of that song without memories of those mornings flooding my mind. Our traditions have now been changed not by choice, but by our circumstances.
Traditions, no matter how strong, are always vulnerable to life circumstances or personalities of those who’ve been a part of them. Some things in life can’t be exactly the same, but they can still be beautiful. It all depends on whether or not we are willing to open our hearts to new experiences or are able to let go of past ones we wish we could keep forever. Believe it or not, we have the ability to adjust and adapt in ways we never thought possible. As a matter of fact, some of our greatest revelations are the things we see when we are forced into searching for new ways of doing things. It is easy to get comfortable and go on auto-pilot when it comes to certain aspects of life. Familiarity can bring great comfort, but it can also cause you to not even consider what else might be just as (or even more) amazing.
So, this year, in the midst of the glaring changes to the early part of my Christmas morning, I decided to do something different. I thought about my 5-year old mother and took a light blue sock, filled it with a little toy, a few pieces of candy, and yes, a Heath bar. I taped it very quietly to the door of my mom’s room and started playing The Christmas Song on my phone that I had laid against her doorway. As I stood hiding in the morning darkness, listening for the sound of Mom taking that sock off the door, I couldn’t help but think about how there are always opportunities for creating beautiful moments, no matter if they’ve been going on for generations, or whether it’s the very first time it’s happened. I peeked around the corner of my mom’s room and said, “Merry Christmas.” There sat my mom on the edge of her bed, laughing and crying at the same time. So, we sat on the bed together in the faint glow of daybreak, reminiscing about her childhood, “Pop,” our family, and how anything can be redeemed, even if it takes 70 years. It was my greatest gift this year.
Christmas Day may be behind us, but the gifts that remain are those experiences we shared with family and friends, or even others along the way. It is the opening of our hearts, listening to each other and loving each other through the difficult times that reminds us we are not alone. In life, as with Christmas, we need to look for the beauty outside our traditions as well as within them. Sometimes it is through the changes we didn’t expect in life that we find the changes that make life more beautiful.
Live with your heart open, and when you get the chance along the way, always take time to fill someone else’s little blue sock.