The Magic of Christmas

It’s Christmas Eve 1970. I’m 8 years old. It’s a cool and delicious night in Paris. We’ve
just come home from midnight mass. The fire crackles in the fire place. The tree
sparkles with hundreds of lights. The stockings are hung and awaiting Santa’s coming.
The smell of Mom’s hot cocoa tickles my nose. My favorite Christmas carol “Away in a Manger” is playing. This song has a way of wrapping itself around my heart… I can picture baby Jesus sleeping soundly in the warmth of his mother’s arms.  A warm and magical feeling fills me from head to toe.

My eyes glisten as I look at the manger… the moment we’ve all been waiting for is
here… Mom lifts up my little brother, who is four years old, and he carefully places baby
Jesus in the manger.

It’s Christmas!

We sing “Happy Birthday Jesus” and each one of us opens one present. Then it’s ‘That
Time’. We rush off to bed, trying our best to fall asleep so the morning will come just a
little bit faster.

Through the years that single moment has never lost its magic for me. So simple yet so
special. Today we celebrate in the same way with my girls.

The Christmas season has always been a special time for our family. It always begins
on December 1st, the first day of Advent. As a Christian family, this is a time of
reflection and preparation. It is a time to be grateful for our many blessings. A time filled
with promise. A time of peace, hope and love. A time when my siblings and I behaved
particularly well… perhaps because of one of my most cherished family traditions..
the “Crèche.”

When Mom and Dad were married they received a little “crèche”, the French word for
nativity, as one of their presents. It was a beautiful little set made of clay and carefully
painted, with Mary, Joseph, the donkey, the ox, two doves, and of course
baby Jesus asleep in the hay. The figurines are no more than 2 inches tall and beautifully hand painted with intricate details. As the years passed this nativity grew to include several hundred little figurines, each representing a special character, such as humility, love, hope, music, friendship, abundance, harvest and so many more. Dad crafted an elaborate scene with hills, deserts and other environments. And with the birth of myself,
and each of my siblings, our saint was added to our crèche.

At the beginning of Advent each of our saints was placed far from the manger. Each
day our saint would take a step closer – IF that is – we had behaved well. However, if
we had misbehaved, well then, we’d take a stop back! As you can imagine we were
mostly on our best behavior during all of Advent!

My crèche is nowhere near as complex as that of my parents, but it is the very first thing

I set up every year. I think I choose it first is because I’ve noticed It fills me with that
special feeling of home. For me, home is far away. I live in Los Angeles and my parents
now live in the South of France. But this little crèche brings us together in a way that
nothing else can.

I remember wonderful dinners with my aunts and uncles. Each year we’d all spend
Christmas Day all together. One year at our house, the next at one of my uncles’ house.
He lived in an apartment in the 17th Arondissement in Paris, in an building filled with his extended family. So we’d go from floor to floor spreading Christmas cheer. The food
was always fabulous! And one of my uncles would always sneak a little champagne in
the kid’s orange juice! The best part was sitting around after our meal, playing board
games, and simply delighting in each other’s company. The end of this special day
always came too fast, but the feeling lingered on for weeks.

One of my other favorite tradition began when we were a little older. We had moved to a
house in the outskirts of Paris and every year my parents would host an “open house”
the Sunday between Christmas and New Year! That day, in and of itself, was amazing!
Close to a hundred people would stop by beginning around 4:00 pm and it would go
until the wee hours.

In preparation for this special day Mom, my siblings, and I would bake up a storm! For
a week leading up to our open house, we baked day in and day out! The house was
filled with the most delicious smells. We always made Mexican wedding cookies,
hundreds of them, which was a tradition from Mom’s side of the family. And of course
we made “fruits déguisés” (dressed up fruits) which are a traditional French treat. Each
year we discovered new recipes. I still make many of these with the girls today. We
love to make boxes of homemade cookies as special gifts, for friends, teachers, or anyone who needs a little Christmas cheer.

I’ve adopted many of the Christmas traditions I grew up with and have incorporated
some from my husband’s family too. We’ve also created new ones with our girls. My
parents are in France and my siblings are all on the East coast now, so every year we
invite some of our friends, who, likewise are far from family, to spend this special day
with us.

Traditions are the glue that keep families together. They are a beautiful way to bring
families together, and form a bond that transcends time. They are these special rituals
that make us unique, and keep us smiling through the years. Traditions don’t have to
be complicated or elaborate. Often the simpler they are, the more meaningful they are.
Traditions are some of the most beautiful things to create and pass on to our children.
In a special way they bring together many generations.

What are some of your special family traditions? Please share them below!

I wish you, and your family, a blessed and beautiful Christmas and holiday season!

Valerie

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