My family lives in St. Louis and I live in Arizona. Working as a Music Director, I never get a chance to go home for the actual day of Christmas, and so I spend Christmas away from family. Usually I take a trip during January, but by then the Christmas spirit has dissipated, and I can’t help but feel that I’m interrupting their January lives instead bringing my missing puzzle piece home so that we can look like the complete Christmas picture together.
Since I moved away, I’ve watched my family grow. Each of my three sisters married, as well as my brother, so Christmases looked different every year. If someone wasn’t newly married, a new niece or nephew was in the picture. The last Christmas at home had all of us siblings around the living room exchanging presents for one another, one by one of course. I held fast to that memory.
But each year it changed. I greatly protested when the family decided to draw names instead of getting gifts for everyone. The second year, my family forgot to add my name to the names drawn because Mom thought I’d be too busy with all the musical engagements December typically meant for me. I didn’t go home that year.
Every year though, my parents would send me a package that I would open on December 26, or on some quiet morning after Christmas. Each year Mom asked me for a list and each year I could think of less and less, and thus the box that was sent more and more started to resemble her best guess of who her son was.
One year, my family did visit just before Christmas, and that Christmas I opened my box with clothes that were smaller than before because I had lost weight, having dealt with some health issues. I think maybe they came out to see if it was true that I would actually fit into them. She, of course, told me she had receipts for everything. When she said this, I wanted to ask her if she had a receipt for the past seven years. I would gladly return all of them for the seven years that I would spend vowing to stay a member of the family despite distance.
This year, I forgot to open the box when I had planned to. I did the best preparing I could though. I made hot chocolate and put oversized pajamas on. I realized that I didn’t have a Christmas album out to listen to, so I just put a Pandora Christmas station on and opened the box. With each gift I opened, I felt more and more disconnected. With every gift I opened, I realized that they had no idea who I was anymore. In my journey of self-discovery, moving away in my early twenties, I decidedly uprooted myself. I did not realize how dead my branch of the family tree truly was until sat there last night wishing again to be seven and giving my sister cheap earrings that Mom helped me pick out. Earring that I knew would be beautiful on my sister because she always looks beautiful.
I’m going back again this year in January. I hope it won’t be an interruption. I hope to get to know my family. My gift to them, I hope, will be my openness to know them, and to love them as they’ve become. I wish for them to love me as the person I’ve become, or give them the chance to. I joke about how it’s nice to visit, but always nice to come home. I don’t want to say that joke anymore. I never really thought it was funny as much as it was cruel.
Until last night, I secretly resented the word Christmas. Maybe this year, I can accept Christmas’ ever-changing appearance and see what’s constant and unchanging beneath its veneer of holly, lights, and UPS boxes. Simply, Love. Because no matter what earrings she wears, she will always be beautiful, and she will always be my little sister, for whom I have nothing but Love.