I had the opportunity to go home for Christmas – first time in ten years. Sometimes, the best family isn’t the one you’re born into, but the one who adopts you. Sometimes the best gifts are the ones that can’t be wrapped or purchased or given as a gift card, but deliver the greatest joy.
I met the hubs at school. I attended university in Thunder Bay, Ontario. It’s Superior By Nature. hahaha (Thunder Bay is on Lake Superior.) Anyway, I lived there for eight years. Beautiful city.
Superior is absolutely gorgeous. If you ever have the opportunity to do the Circle Tour around this massive lake, definitely do it…in summer. Superior has catch-your-breath scenery, but she’s not without her hazards especially in winter. She’s treacherous and has beaten the most experienced sailor and traveler. Long story short, we haven’t been back for Christmas since we moved south.
My in-laws have a unique tradition that I always enjoyed. Many Christmases ago, when the hubs was a small boy, the in-laws got together with two other couples with children about the same age. None of them had family to spend the holiday with, so they made each other family and have spent every Christmas Eve together since. It started with 14 people, and this Christmas there were 14 grandchildren.
The host’s family has a Ukranian heritage, so we always eat Christmas Kutya. I actually enjoy it. The rule is you have to eat all your kutya before you can have the main course. We have lasagna with garlic bread and salad, and Grandma Sherry (all the moms from the original group are grandmothers to all the children and now grandchildren) brings a raspberry torte with berries from her summer garden. The lasagna and salad selection has grown over the years to accommodate food allergies and diets.
We all share a deep faith, so after we eat we read the Christmas story from the Bible. Then (how do you spell grandpa in Ukrainian?) Don gets out his guitar, sits on the piano bench, and we sing — for hours. Christmas carols, hymns, even silly songs, we sing whatever someone requests. I have the notorious distinction of knowing all the verses to the Gilligan’s Island theme song – so we sing that every year.
A new song for me this year was Dominic The Italian Christmas Donkey.
I sat by the fireplace watching these familiar faces laughing and singing, kids dancing and playing in the middle of the room, and just soaked it in. What a precious gift this gathering, and these people, have been to me. These are friends that any of us could call on and know help would be given unequivocally. I don’t know many families united by blood with that kind of love for one another.
It did my momma heart good to see my 13year old daughter singing every song with a huge smile. She was just 3 and a half the last time we spent Christmas Eve there. “Can we come again next year?” She asked me as we walked to our van at the end of the evening.
Family is so important this time of year, but I wanted to share this tradition with all of you because family can be as simple and profound as gathering with the people around you who love you. This tradition was a big part of what always made Christmas special for me so far away from my parents. If you follow me on Facebook, you may have seen my Joy Project posts. Christmas for the last few years has been a difficult time of year for me. (You can read more about that here.)
This adopted family has restored the joy of the season and cleared the flood waters of those other tainted memories (which is no slight against my immediate family – has nothing to do with them). Every song, every hug, every “I’m so glad you’re here” no matter how much time had passed, healed my heart in such an unexpected way that it brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it. That’s been the best, and the most unexpected gift, I’ve received this year.
Do you have an adopted family like this? Sometimes the most precious — and meaningful gifts, are the simplest ones. What was the best Christmas gift you received this year?
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