This year has taught me to expect very little. If it snows, expect a snowball thrown at the window to break the glass.

Even before the pandemic, I’d already accepted that I’m not that person who’s ready with a huge stack of Christmas cards, crispy sprinkle-covered cookies, seasonal decorations, or beautifully wrapped gifts. I’d describe myself as a functional Christmas person. I don’t send cards; I don’t bake cookies; I decorate minimally; and I wrap gifts, but never beautifully. We celebrate Christmas to commemorate the birth of Christ, and that doesn’t need a bunch of extra trappings. Which is good, because trappings aren’t happening.

This year, even more than previous years, trappings didn’t happen. I have one single important task I have to finish before Thanksgiving every year, and this year I didn’t. That meant that we didn’t have the gift we usually give to all the different parts of our family, a book of pictures of Benji over the previous year.

We did acquire gifts, mainly for Benji, but I didn’t wrap anything until December 23. Then I thought I’d be creative and wrap them in paper bags from the grocery store, turned inside out, like brown paper… Turns out that tape doesn’t stick and gifts wrapped in grocery store bags just look like they’re wrapped in grocery store bags. So that was a bust, but on the bright side, it did use up some of our large supply of paper bags.

Fortunately we don’t usually buy really fancy gifts, but instead focus on making donations to charities people care about. That meant that I could literally make those donations on Christmas Eve, mere hours before we handed my parents a card I’d hastily made to tell them about the gift. Good thing I didn’t have much technical writing work to do that morning.

Given all this, I naturally viewed this Christmas with a certain amount of apprehension. I didn’t consciously think, What’s going to go wrong now?, but it wouldn’t have surprised me to crash on ice on my Christmas Eve bike ride and spend Christmas Day with a broken collar bone. (Spoiler: I didn’t.)

But you know what? It went great.

On Christmas Eve Ian and I both had to work, but in the afternoon I snuck out for a ride in the freezing cold. When I got back, we watched a livestream of our church’s very short Christmas Eve service and then went over to my parents’ house for presents and dinner.

What 152 Crayons Looks Like
All Benji wanted for Christmas was a 120 box of Crayons. He wasn’t disappointed to receive a 152 “Ultimate Collector’s Edition” box instead.
Happy Birthday, Jesus! Birthday Cake
Mom got fancy with a different Bundt pan for the Happy Birthday, Jesus! Birthday cake this year.
Christmas Dinner
Mom set a fancy table for us using her mother’s china, a rare event. I already am plotting how to inherit that china one day. It has evergreen twigs printed around the edge. I just love it.

Christmas morning Benji entertained himself with reorganizing his 152 new crayons while Ian and I combobulated ourselves. We opened gifts, and had a couple major highlights: Ian didn’t expect to receive the Razor Crest Lego set that I gave him, and Benji could hardly contain himself at receiving Pokemon Shield for Switch from my sister.

Receiving the Pokemon Game
“It’s my first Pokémon game!!!! YAAAAAAAAYYYYYYY!!!” Truly genuine excitement.
Benji's First Pokemon
Ian and Benji try out Pokémon Shield.
Starting on the Razor Crest
Ian and Benji start building Ian’s Mandalorian Razor Crest Lego set.

While Ian and Benji played with their new toys, I started on our new family tradition of making Belgian waffles for Christmas breakfast. We decided to try to do something special for 2020, since it’s been a rough (to say the least) year, and all of us agreed on a fancier Christmas morning breakfast. It meant a lot more dishes than usual, but also a lot more deliciousness.

Midmorning we went over to visit Ian’s parents, where Benji eagerly opened his third and last round of presents. We then ate more delicious breakfast food, because why not! And plus, it was almost lunchtime. And Christmas is the most carbo-ful time of the year.

While there, Benji got to chat with his cousin in Pennsylvania, play chess with Ian’s dad, and do something with marbles. I’m not asking what, because he left us adults to talk about adult things for a pleasantly long time.

Facetime with Jane
Facetime with cousin.

When we got home, Ian gave me the best Christmas present of the day: Time for a nap and a nice bubble bath. Bliss.

We finished the day watching Soul on Disney+. Although an excellent movie touching on important themes, it really wasn’t a kid’s movie at all. Benji understood the plot, but not the themes, and kept wanting them to hurry up getting through the climax and just get everything resolved already! Then he assured us it was “great.” I agree — and perhaps some day he’ll have lived enough life to understand why it was great.

I know that all this blow-by-blow is probably boring. Sorry. It helps me remember that even though right now life is tougher than usual, and even though I feel like I’m barely squeaking by, there are beautiful moments when we look for them. Parts of Christmas were beautiful. It is the season of the spirit — even in hard times.

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