Gifts on Christmas Eve

Christmas in Vienna is lovely, and both times that we were there for the holidays we had a very nice (if very quiet) time.  But nothing compares to Christmas with family.

The lead-up to Christmas Day in Vienna truly is wonderful.  I’ve been completely won over by the coziness of the Christmas markets, the grand yet warm feeling of the lights hung over the busy streets and the peacefulness of focusing on togetherness and family over shopping and buying.  I absolutely love it.  I’m a convert.  I hope to carry part of Christmas in Vienna with me my whole life.  I hope that I have been fundamentally, irreversibly changed by experiencing it.

Christmas at home, surrounded by a bustling family, is where my heart really lives, though.  Getting a tree, wrapping gifts, gathering for meals, watching my boys put the star(s) on the tree and spending the days leading up to Christmas Day playing and talking together — it was exactly the holiday I wanted to have.

Christmas Eve itself was a whirlwind of dinner, bath time, hanging stockings, sprinkling “reindeer food” on the lawn, leaving a snack for Santa, reading “The Night Before Christmas” and then tucking two very excited boys into bed a few hours later than I’d planned.

And then we elves went to work!  The wrapping was mostly done, but all of the gifts had to be pulled out from where they’d been hidden away, batteries had to be put in place, everything had to be set out just right and we had two firetrucks with over 100 pieces each that needed to be assembled (thanks for that, Santa).  It was a big job, but since this was our sixth Christmas as parents, Dan & I are not strangers to the late-night Christmas Eve gift assembly party.  But this time, it really WAS a party.  My brothers and sister came over and we all stayed up until well after midnight to fit tiny firehoses into brackets and figure out how to put together front-end wheel assemblies for the remote control options.  Truly, nothing says “I love you” like putting together 177 pieces of plastic in the middle of the night.

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It was great.  It was festive.  It was togetherness.  Although they don’t yet appreciate it, my boys were on the receiving end of a lot of love from their whole family that night.  After a couple of years of doing Christmas mostly on our own, there was an amazing sense of joy and celebration just in getting together to play Santa for Benjamin and Liam.  I absolutely loved it.

And, around 1:00, when I was picking up the last little cardboard pieces, making sure the instructions were squirreled away, and turning off the lights, I realized that back in Vienna, Christmas morning was already over.  Had we been in Vienna, instead of in Maryland, we would have been already finished with opening most of the gifts, and we would be impatiently waiting to talk to our family back home, to wish them a Merry Christmas and to let the boys share their excitement over everything Santa had brought for them.  And that always has been one of the hardest things about celebrating Christmas far away.  The time difference is more noticeable on Christmas Day than any other day of the year, because when we want to be celebrating and sharing it together, everyone at home is still sleeping . . . and by the time they’ve all gotten together to have Christmas dinner, we’re already on our way to bed in Vienna.

So that moment, the camaraderie of an evening spent constructing toys and the anticipation of the Christmas morning still to come, was pretty magical.  Even being in the same time zone as our family would have been special enough, but getting to actually be together to celebrate was the best thing I could have gotten for Christmas this year.

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