What makes Christmas “Christmas” for you?  I got to thinking about this, because we’ve been pretty low on the snow, and I’m starting to grapple with the prospect that it’s going to be a brown Christmas.  Technically, it will be patchy green, as with all of the rain we’ve had, our lawn has seen a revival of epic proportions, but that’s another story. 

Does snow make it truly feel like Christmas for you?  I have to admit, it sort of does for me.  Lord knows my husband is chomping at the bit to get on his snowmobile and tear it up in the yard and on the trails, but snow isn’t the only thing that’s lacking for the vibe I’m missing this time of year.

I miss making the long trek from northern Illinois to Hokah to visit our relatives.  We would drive our dad absolutely nuts when we reached La Crescent, as it would be pitch-black dark, and we would begin to holler out the letters as they lit up on the Standard Oil sign.  S-T-A-N-D-A-R-D.  STANDARD!  STANDARD!  It was always the little things that we were amused by on that trip, but the sign signaled that we were almost to our grandparent’s home in Hokah; a place where oodles of great memories were created.

I miss my grandma, Helen Hoskins.  I miss that she made awesome cutout cookies that were slathered with the icing that melted in your mouth and lovingly settled right onto your hips.  I miss that she baked an upright lamb cake to celebrate the birth of Jesus.  I miss that she always offered the neighbor kids, who were being raised Jehovah’s Witnesses, a slice of Jesus’ birthday cake with an encouraging smile.  

I miss that anticipation we had as kids to rip open our presents, which was always made more agonizing because we had to kneel on the hardwood floor in front of the nativity and pray the rosary first.  

I miss the music that filled the entire house, as every family member would add to the mix, with either with their voice, or with one or two instruments that they packed to bring home for the Hoskins Christmas celebration.  

I miss the scurrying around to get ready for Midnight Mass at St. Peter’s in Hokah.  I miss the energy and awe one felt sitting in the old wooden pews, gazing at the deep red poinsettias peppered around the front of the church, with the voices of the choir soaring high in harmony.  

I will always hold every choir to the St. Peter’s standard on Christmas.  Every former resident of Hokah that came home to be with their family would find their way up the creaky steps to take their old spot in the choir loft.  No one could hold a candle to the St. Peter’s bunch when they were at full force. 

Many of those members of the choir that I remember have passed on now, which gives me pangs of sadness, but at the same time, I can’t help but think that they are still there at Christmas, enjoying the music, and the families tucked together in the pews.

The wheels of time continue to turn, and things change.  What was once a normal experience has now become a memory that I cling to tightly, which brings me back to my initial question:  “What makes Christmas, “Christmas?”  

I think the answer is not snow.  It’s not someone who is no longer here.  It’s not watching Jehovah Witness children gobble down a slice of Jesus’ birthday cake.

It’s the memories that we have and the stories told about them that keep that spirit of Christmas alive.  Christmas is family, friends, and the journey of life so far.  

This is why at Christmas time; I tend to be fairly quiet, with my ears wide open, drinking in every story those who are older than me have to share.  I hope to retain those tales, and continue to share them with others when I’m that old person at the table, snarfing cookies mid-sentence.  

So don’t lament the lack of snow this Christmas, and don’t roll your eyes when your great uncle plunks down at the table with a frothy Tom & Jerry in hand, and proceeds to tell stories again.  Instead, pull up a chair and listen.  You could be creating some of the best memories you’ve ever had at Christmas.