It is rare when we can coordinate the time and distance between a dozen careers, three states and two countries to share a few moments as family. Christmas happens whenever we can get together.

When I first moved to Europe, I missed being home for the holidays and before my baby’s first birthday, I bundled her in my arms and flew back from Paris. That baby, now a doctor in St. Paul, will drive to Chicago with her “little” brother. My folks will pop in from Sterling. The car wheels will crunch on an icy driveway when my brother’s family arrives from Cleveland and my sister’s brood pulls in from Minneapolis. After traveling 4,000 miles we’ll reunite at the midway point, my sister and brother-in-law’s home in Yorkville, for an old fashioned Midwestern Christmas.

The house will be filled with the imperfect details that created the perfect memories of our happy childhood. Tabletops will be buried under a disarray of cards from friends and loved ones. Tupperware will overflow with cut out cookies of reindeer, candles and Santas that are eaten before even frosted. The walls will be covered with handmade gifts of the heart and the tree adorned with a collection of decorations commemorating each new birth in the family.

Christmas with grandkids

Christmas with grandkids

We’ll spend our holiday sprawled around the tree where so many memories hang and chatter simultaneously trying to catch up on a year of our lives. Or we’ll stare silently into the colored lights, content just to be side by side. Someone will start our favorite game, “Remember whens.”

“Remember how each year we vowed to be on time for the candlelight service,” Mom said, “and every year we arrived after the organ music started and had to sit in the front pew.”

“I can still hear the whole congregation whispering, here come the McKinzie’s, late as usual,” groans my middle sister, who was always on time.

“Remember when you got in trouble for playing with the candle wax,” I kidded my brother.

We didn’t always pay attention in church, but we got the message. Love one another. When we came home the house would ring with giggles and whispers and papers rattling behind closed doors. The walls would echo with our off key voices as we tried to sing Silent Night in harmony while my brother pounded the piano. Later our children would provide entertainment by putting on magic shows, Christmas plays and holiday concerts.

During the holidays, our house overflowed with red, green and gold packages. As though every act of kindness were being reimbursed. When we were kids, we’d each get one toy multiplied by four, because we learned early on to share. Every year, my sister says, “Next year, we’ll cut back,” yet on July 4th, she’ll start Christmas shopping for the perfect gifts to spoil her nieces, nephews and grand-kids. We’ll protest her extravagance and she always assures us, “Don’t worry it was on sale!”

Yet we all know the real gift is being together all ages and appreciating one another at each stage of life.

treasuring family at each stage

treasuring family at each stage

The Christmas memories are so vivid, that anytime, anywhere, we can close our eyes and smell pine needles and baking gingerbread and see the barren fields dusted with light snow and hear the pa rum pa pa pum of the Little Drummer Boy beat that filled our childhood dreams. No matter where we are or how great our troubles we feel the peace.

Once each year, in a testimony of our love, we make a pilgrimage across thousands of miles just for a few precious moments of magic that being together at the holidays brings. The love that gave us the strength to leave the nest kept bringing us home for Christmas to rejoice in the gift of family.