The Best Gift

Sometimes I’m almost as excited about Christmas now as I was when I was a fourth-grader in school.

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The excitement wasn’t because we might receive gifts, because we didn’t always, but because our cousins would be coming and we’d have a loud, happy time at Grandpa’s house, (at our grandparents on both sides of the family.)

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(Not everyone on this photo is related to me, but its only one of very few that I have of my cousins. It is, however, taken at my Grandpa Schrock’s home, and most of the children pictured here are the ones I grew up with in our church. They were of the first Mennonites who migrated into our area in the late 50’s. If you’re curious to know, I’m the fourth from the right in the front row, wearing a pastel blue dress. The girls on both sides of me, the toddler on the far right, and the boy second from the left, are my brothers and sisters. The tallest boy on the far left is my uncle and some of the other children are my cousins.)

Christmas Day was when we’d get together. At mealtime the adults would gather around the long table and we children would sit at the small one. The noise level would be several decibles too high but would die down for the blessing. As soon as the “Amen” was said the noise would go right back up, like crickets on a summer night. The food was passed around the tables for a long time, because there would not only be the meat and potatoes, but relish plates filled with pickles and pickled red beets, cheeses, jello salads, and several different kinds of vegetables, most of which had been home-raised and preserved. Finally, when we had cleaned our plates completely, out came the tapioca pudding, then pies, cake or maybe date pudding,  and fruit, and the adults got coffee. Sometimes, after the meal was finished and dishes done, we’d all gather around in the livingroom for an hour of singing Christmas carols. There were a few times we had exchanged names for gifts several months beforehand. Whose name we had drawn was always to be kept secret, so up until the moment the gifts were handed out there was a lot of guessing and speculation about who had drawn our names. Gifts were not the main thing at Christmas. Family time was the main thing, and I’m grateful for that kind of childhood.

Now, my husband and I are the grandparents, and our children and grandchildren come here for Christmas. Once again the house is filled to the top with noise and laughter and home-style cooking, fire in the fireplace and games around the table. The noise dies down for the blessing but rises again as soon as the “Amen” is said. That alone makes me laugh for sheer joy. There isn’t a single gift equal to it!

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