Ever since I was a little kid, while my family was gathered around a load of presents beneath a shiny tree on Christmas Eve, my father would make a comment that went something like this: “You better enjoy it this year because you never know what next year may bring.”
For each of my previous 60 Christmases, he was wrong. Every year, following a large feast, we’d gather around the Christmas tree. The vast majority of years the gathering included by parents, my paternal grandparents, myself and my three siblings, then later grandchildren, and in more recent years great-grandchildren.
Yes, we have lost a couple along the way. My grandfather Delbert Gilliland departed this world in 2012 at the age of 97, and in 2017 my grandmother Emma Mae Gilliland left us at the age of 99, just 14 days before our annual Christmas Eve celebration.
While their passings were sad, they lived long and well, we all knew we were lucky to have them as long as we did, and the Christmas Eve tradition continued with my parents, siblings, etc. always in attendance, and grandpa and grandma in our minds.
But finally, thanks to the Covid pandemic — and three very young new additions to the family — my father’s prophecy has finally come to pass. There will not be a gathering of the Gilliland clan on Christmas Eve at my parents’ home this year, at least not in our traditional way.
But we have a plan.
Thanks largely to my sister, it will go like this: She will be at my parents’ house on Christmas Eve from around 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., fixing the lunch and leaving a little something for those who follow. My family and I will arrive later that evening. One of my brothers will stop in on Christmas morning/early afternoon, and another will drop by with his clan later in the day.
I’m not sure if that meets the recommended COVID-19 guidelines, but to heck with it if it does not. We’re making an effort, mostly out of concern for the little ones, and it seems like a good plan to me. And in case you think we’re forgetting about our parents’ health, they had Covid a few weeks back. They were asymptomatic and really did not suffer.
With all four of us siblings arriving at different times on two days, it solves another problem.
For many years, I have felt sorry for parents on Christmas Day. After the big celebration on Christmas Eve, we’d all go our separate ways, and I least as far as my immediate family is concerned, have an even bigger celebration on Christmas Day. I always felt like we kind of left Mom and Dad to fend for themselves on Christmas Day while we were still carrying on from the night before.
Even though Mom would always call to see how things were going and who got what — and she may have been tuckered out from fixing the big dinner, wrapping tons of presents. etc. — it’s not quite the same as having family there in person.
This year, thanks to Covid, I guess I won’t have to worry about that.
Christmas with my wife and kids has always been an all-day affair. We sleep in, have breakfast/lunch, open presents pretty much one by one, eat some more, then out come the stockings. That’s followed by some cleaning up before my wife brings out what she calls her “Santa gifts.” Then there’s playing with all the kids’ new toys, some more eating, and a final round of cleaning up.
One day that tradition will come to an end too. Families branch out and grow larger, other commitments arise, and nothing stays the same forever.
That’s OK though. It’s all part of the wonderful circle of life. When old traditions fade away, new ones rise in their place, and the circle rolls on.
This Christmas will be even more special than usual in our house. We have a new grandchild, Faye Joanna, who celebrated her one-month birthday this week. And we have another grandchild due on Dec. 21. We have much to be thankful for, and it may be one of our most precious Christmases yet.
I hope your Christmas is special this year, too. I hope you find a way to celebrate with your loved ones despite all the virus restrictions.
So from each of us here at The Times-Gazette, here’s wishing you a very merry Christmas and a happy new year.
Jeff Gilliland is the editor of The Times-Gazette. He can be reached at [email protected] or 937-402-2522.