By Wendy Hodge

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks asking friends and strangers alike about their favorite Christmas memories in hopes that I would get some inspiration for this year’s Christmas column. For the last couple of years, it’s been easy to write about my own childhood Christmases and those of my children and my family. But, this year is different. The words aren’t flowing so easily, and I’ve struggled to figure out why. And so I’ve listened and written down what other people remember most about Christmas past. And it’s been such a treat.
I have a dear friend whose favorite Christmas was when she was young and her whole family would gather together to sit and talk around the dining room table, laughing and sharing stories. At some point during the day, a family photo would be taken – a permanent reminder of such a tangible and fleeting joy. When she talks about that memory, my friend’s face glows.
And there’s a touch of sadness there, too. Because most precious things don’t last.
Her daughter has a very different favorite Christmas memory. Their family was stationed in Hawaii for several years, and so their children spent Christmases in mild weather and sunshine.
Her daughter told me about their tradition of snorkeling at Sharks Cove on Christmas morning, and I could picture the four of them splashing in the Pacific while ukuleles played ‘Mele Kalikimaka.’ How cool is that?
Several of my male friends have very specific memories of their favorite Christmas gifts –everything from video games to a brand new convertible. They speak of “2014 – the year of Call of Duty, Advanced Warfare” and their eyes glaze over a bit.
I also have girlfriends who speak of events like this: “Christmas 2000 – the year my parents kept the kids and we had a vacation alone” or “Last Christmas – the year the flu nearly wiped out my entire household.” These are always accompanied by a wistful smile, wishing for another child- free trip, or by a laugh of relief that a particular Christmas is far behind them.
A co-worker told me about her favorite Christmas as a child when she and her sister woke up to huge boxes wrapped and waiting under their piano. Two saddles for two little girls thrilled to learn they had their very own horse waiting in a nearby pasture. When she tells that story, her face softens into a smile and you can see that her love of horses, and of that sister, are stronger all these Christmases later.
My best friend knew I was struggling to find the right words for Christmas, and he suggested I speak to his mom and see what her favorite memory was. “She’ll have tons,” he said. And here was her response: “I have so many! One Christmas that stands out is one from the 80’s. The kids were all young teens, and we went to Jeff’s sister’s house in New Hampshire. It was like being inside of a Christmas card. Her home was a gorgeous Victorian and we had tons of snow.
Grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles filled the house. Jeff’s family loves to laugh and they all have a wonderful sense of humor. The kids are all grown now, Jeff’s mom is gone, the aunts and uncles are now the seniors… but that Christmas in New England was the kind of Christmas I always wished for as a little girl from the south. And to top it all off, it snowed on Christmas Eve.”
I wonder if the rest of the family was aware, as my best friend’s mom was, that they were living inside a Christmas card.
When it came time for my best friend to share his favorite Christmas memory with me, he was reluctant. He doesn’t like to be the subject of anything I write, but he’s learned to deal with that, and so he gave in and told me about the year he was around 8 years old. The thing he wanted most that year was a racetrack for his Matchbox cars that looped around itself several times and would spread across his bedroom floor and sound exactly like the Talladega 500! His sister, who was a couple of years older, convinced him to sneak downstairs before the sun came up on Christmas morning to take a peek at what Santa had brought them. As he reached the bottom of the stairs, he heard a crunch under his feet and looked down to see the racetrack of his dreams shattered into a dozen un-fixable pieces. His parents had spent the night before painstakingly assembling the entire thing, only to have it destroyed in a split second. You would think his little boy heart would have broken. My grown-up lady heart broke just listening to the story. But, he tells it with a smile and that easy laugh that I love because he does not take himself too seriously and because joy is his default emotion. What a gift that is.
After watching and listening to my friend’s hearts open up, I realize why I can’t seem to write about my own Christmas this year. And it’s this: As wonderful as my Christmases have been, as happy as my childhood was, as fulfilled as my children have made my life, I have a deep realization that my favorite Christmas is yet to be. I am both hopeful and homesick for what is waiting for me down the road. There is a life that I’ve always wanted, and I am left to wait for the timing of the universe to bring it to me. And I’ve never been good at waiting. There will be a Christmas column someday, if I am fortunate enough to keep sharing my words, that will be all about my favorite Christmas. My heart can already see it – my Christmas Yet To Be.
Wendy Hodge is an Opelika native, an empty nester and lover of all things Opelika. She previously had a column titled A Word or Ten, which was featured in the Tennessee Star Journal and is currently awaiting release of her first novel with Harper Collins Publishing Company.