Last year was not a good year for Christmas in the Sherwood family. Living out of suitcases in a temporary house for five weeks ended on Christmas day when we moved into our permanent house. We borrowed a tree from one of Brandon's (very, very kind) colleagues and made the best we could of the season. But it wasn't very festive.
This year, Brandon vowed to celebrate Christmas so much he'd be happy to take down the tree and turn off the music on December 26th.
We started the Saturday after Thanksgiving. We pulled out all of our Christmas decorations, loaded up the iPod with all fifteen of our Christmas CDs, and finished the day with White Christmas and peppermint hot chocolate.
In church the next day, we started singing Christmas hymns. There are never enough Sundays between Thanksgiving and Christmas to sing all of the songs you want to.
The next Monday evening we made snowflakes and drank more hot chocolate. Because you can never have enough hot chocolate.
On Saturday we went to our first holiday party. I took my very favorite Christmas cookies, peppermint chocolate cookies. Because, peppermint. You can never get enough of that at Christmas. And of course chocolate. Because that's for all seasons.
The next Monday we made wrapping paper. Brandon and I cut out potato stamps while the children eagerly and impatiently watched - I keep thinking that next year will be the year I'll hand over the Xacto blade and not care about the poor design quality - and then let them loose. And after they went to bed, I made my own tastefully designed sheet.
The next Saturday we invited everyone over for a caroling party. And we had hot chocolate. Again.
In church we watched the First Presidency Christmas Devotional and some of the children thought that they were going to die of Mormon Tabernacle Choir overdose. I enjoyed it.
The next Monday we all enjoyed Mr. Krueger's Christmas, just in case people still felt a need for more MoTab, and drank the hot chocolate left over from Saturday's party. Christmas, brought to you by hot chocolate.
And on Saturday we enjoyed our final Christmas party, a section party hosted by Brandon's boss. The children enjoyed a visit from Ded Moroz and his helper, Snegurochka. They got to howl for his arrival, circle the Christmas tree, chant for it to light up, and sing a song to receive their treat bag. I'll now be unimpressed with Santa Claus forever. All he does is sit in a comfy chair and ask about presents.
Sunday, after having our church Christmas program, we made our yearly gingerbread house, a highlight of the children's Christmas celebrations. The girls and Edwin are finally old enough to enjoy sticking candy on every single surface that I'll consent to squirt icing on, but Joseph (and now Eleanor) don't care for anything but stuffing every piece of candy they can find into their sticky faces.
For our final Christmas Family Home Evening, we watched Muppets Christmas Carol and ate schawermas. But no hot chocolate.
And tonight we'll have some friends over for Christmas Eve dinner and singing. Then it will finally be Christmas.
I used to worry that all of the fun things we do for Christmas were somehow wrong, distracting us from our worship of Christ. But I've made my own peace, creating a place where gingerbread houses and the creator of the universe can coexist. I can have fun with my children and enjoy the company of friends because of Christ's birth over 2,000 years ago. The gift of his birth and life is not something to be admired and revered from afar, like that crystal vase your grandmother passed to you, the one that never can actually be used for anything because it is so precious. The gift that he has given us - the ability to come here and have family and friends and fun and gifts and gingerbread houses - is one to be used every day to its fullest. We can make snowflakes and think of the beauty that Christ gave us in everything, even snowflakes that we can barely see. Our gifts to each other remind us of Christ's gift to us. Our time with friends fills us with the love that Christ has for all of His brothers and sisters.
And so we can pack up the tree this year, knowing that we have enjoyed the Christmas season this year to the fullest. We will go on into the New Year, freshly reminded of the gifts we have been given. And when Christmas comes around again next year, we can do it all again.