By Guest Blogger Lauren Warren
Christmas is, and always has been, one of my favorite times of the year. I love the lights, the excitement in the weeks leading up to Christmas, and the sound of the Salvation Army Kettlebells ringing everywhere I go. But mostly, I love the nostalgia of the season. To me, Christmas is soaked in happy memories, more so than any other time of the year.
When I was younger, my family had the same tradition every Christmas Eve. We would start with the Moravian Lovefeast at First Moravian Church on Elam Avenue in Greensboro. I loved the music during the service. Of course, I relished the sugar cake and the opportunity to drink the incredibly sweet coffee they provided too. But, when they handed out those beeswax candles and turned off the lights for the final song, my heart soared. After we left the church, we would always eat Chinese food at a restaurant in Quaker Village. It seemed like an odd Christmas meal for me; however, other families packed the restaurant along with us. Once we got home, we would spread out under the Christmas tree and read Christmas stories. We would read a few classics, and then we would get to the grande finale: The Polar Express. I liked the story well enough, but it was always my father’s reaction to the book that made it memorable. Every single Christmas Eve, without fail, he would attempt to read it. He would get halfway through, and he would start to tear up. By the time we got to the part about the Christmas bell, he couldn’t read any further. My brother and I would begin to giggle, and my mom would become exasperated and dramatically take the book from him to finish reading. And that was how we always ended Christmas Eve. I am sure it was never as an idealistic evening as it is in my head currently: the warm glow of the fire, the smell of cookies, everyone happy. But, I will take it and hug those memories as long as I can.
In talking with some friends and family, it seems that the past is an anchor for our most significant holiday traditions. My husband’s longtime friend, Joe Harmon, has a wonderful tradition that can be appreciated by all (except maybe airplane pilots): lights! And lots of them. It all started when he was younger, and his family would drive around looking at Christmas decorations. There was a house in Irving Park in Greensboro that everyone referred to as “The Griswold House.” Joe loved to see this house and thought to himself, “One day, I’ll have lights like that.” How many times did we think this as children about something, yet failed to follow through? Fast forward to 2007, when he and his wife, Sara, bought a home in Kernersville, NC. Joe soon started buying up tons of Christmas lights and decorations on clearance after the holidays. Since then, the Christmas lights display has grown to epic proportions. People drive out of their way to see his display. Joe starts planning in October, and this has become a family affair. His brother, friends, and even his young son get in on the action. He has so many lights that electricians have come to his house to add extra outlets and power to the breaker box to accommodate everything. Joe’s Christmas lights are pretty spectacular and definitely give Clark Griswold a run for his money. Joe hopes that his decorations inspire another young kid, driving around looking at Christmas displays, to do the same when he gets older. There is something so incredible about Christmas and the holidays that bring out the childhood joy in all of us. Joe is certainly no exception. If you have a chance to check out Joe’s decorations, please do! It is in the Peachtree Meadows neighborhood in Kernersville, NC.
Another friend, Kendra Knight, has a family tradition that I love. Every year for Christmas, their family takes these fantastic photos in their pajamas. (See lead photo!) The scenery is fabulous, their outfits match perfectly, and everyone has an incredibly joyous look on their face. The images really are perfection. One of the things I love most about Kendra has always been her honesty and willingness to share the realities behind the photos. She and her husband, Quadean Knight, are both professional photographers. She specializes in brand photography, and he is a well-regarded wedding photographer. Taking photos of her family, especially her children as they grow and change, is incredibly important to Kendra. But Kendra readily admits how hard it is for her family to get just the right shot. Working with small children, especially when they are your own, can be challenging. Then there is the time spent styling the background and the typical family emotions that come with trying to get everyone to smile and look at the camera. Professional photographers struggle with family photos, too! Kendra posts these images to her Instagram account, and I love reading what she writes. The photos are amazing and definitely “insta perfect,” but they also come with a story. I always look forward to seeing their pajama photos every year, and I am sure their children will look back on them and be so incredibly grateful to have these pictures. Follow Kendra’s account at @kendraknightphoto.
One of my cousins recently posed the question, “How do you remember your loved ones during the holidays?” Her father, and a very close uncle, passed this year. She wanted to start a tradition to remember friends and family that have left us. I loved this idea. We have all experienced some loss this year. Unfortunately, 2020 has been a year of deep sorrow for a lot of people. I thought the idea of honoring loved ones by starting a holiday tradition was a wonderful way to make new memories and remember old ones. I posed the question to my fellow ESL teachers, who always give great advice. Other teachers mentioned traditions that they did in their own homes, such as baking their loved ones’ favorite recipe, lighting a candle in memory, or hanging up an ornament from their loved ones’ Christmas tree. My favorite suggestion, however, involved a little red chair. Kayleigh Claytong told me that every Christmas, her family sets out a tiny red chair. In it, they put the following poem:
“Christmas in heaven, what do they do? They come down to Earth to spend time with you. So save them a seat, just one empty chair. You may not see them, but they will be there.”
I couldn’t think of a sweeter way to remember a loved one this holiday season.
I plan to pass down some of my favorite Christmas memories to my kids in the form of traditions. My kids, aged 2 and 4, are too young to appreciate The Polar Express just yet. And the movie, to me, just does not hold the same magic that the book does (sorry, Tom Hanks). However, I hope sometime soon I can sit down with my kids on Christmas Eve and read them their favorite Christmas stories. And, fingers crossed, I can make it through The Polar Express without crying.
How do you celebrate Christmas or another holiday? I would love to hear about your traditions below!