We have a wonderful tradition in my family of gathering at my parents’
home for Christmas Eve. They still live in the home where I grew up. That home is bursting with memories, stories and more than a few tall tales.

I am one of nine children, all of us married, except one brother that passed away some years ago. Among us there are 26 grandchildren. And on any given Christmas Eve there is at least one, two or more who join our celebration because they don’t have a place to go.

My children have known this tradition all of their lives. It is a long day filled with cousins, games, lots of food and a visit from Santa. As the fire crackles and the snow glistens in the moonlight, we gather in the living room, children clustered on the floor as my dad reads the story of the Nativity. It is, hands down, my favorite day of the year.

About five years ago, my dad was quite ill around Christmas and ended up in the hospital. He was going to miss Christmas. Our Advent was filled with conversations about what we were going to do. We talked about waiting to celebrate until Dad was better. We talked about having it at my sister’s home. We talked about taking shifts at the hospital so everyone would get to spend some time with my parents over the holiday. All of us were saddened by the thought of the absence of the most important man in our family — Papa.

I remember my husband and I talking with our children, all on the edge of their teens, about Papa’s illness, and that he would be in the hospital over Christmas. Their response melted my heart. Cole said, “Why don’t we wait and have Christmas when Papa is better?” “Yeah, cause who would read the story? It just wouldn’t feel right,” added Aidan. “I’ll go sit with Papa at the hospital on Christmas Eve so Mima and Papa aren’t alone if that would help,” offered Maddie. Then Zoa summed up what we were all feeling when she said, “This just doesn’t feel like Christmas.”

In the end it was my dad that decided. He wanted us to gather as usual. He was tired and could use the rest, and my mom could use the company and a break from the hospital. And that is what we did. It wasn’t the same, but it was good to be together. My dad got better, thankfully, and we have celebrated several Christmas Eves since. As a parent I often wonder if I have done enough to teach my children the truly important things in life — family, faith, kindness, love. That Christmas I got the gift of knowing the answer to that question. And my children got the gift of finding the true meaning of Christmas. Love is God’s gift to us at Christmas and always.