Best December Ever

Little boys, who believe with their whole hearts, bouncing around in cotton pajamas.

Shimmering lights on sturdy trees

A chill in the air, a kiss on the cheek

A fuzzy turtleneck, a heated blanket

Packages cinched exquisitely with glossy, gold ribbon

Mantles adorned with angels and stars and holly and Kris Kringle

Foil pressed holiday greetings on display, showcasing new babies, siblings in coordinating ensembles, and growing families

Hot buttered rum, balsam, apple cinnamon, roasted chestnut, mulberry spice, fireside embers, pine needle, cranberry, and gingerbread candles permeating every space I have control of

Crumb-covered faces, fingertips glazed with emerald icing, and an avalanche of sprinkles spilling down a teeny sugar cookie tree...

"Oopsie, I think I poured too much on," a quiet voice confesses nervously. My precious, rule-honoring nephew freezes, anticipating disapproval from an adult, but when he receives encouragement instead- "That's okay, it's gorgeous! You can just brush the excess off."- his eyes actually twinkle.

Watching Santa Paws with wide-eyed boys who blissfully chomp dry cereal, cuddle with security blankets, and ask questions from pure hearts about The North Pole and reindeer and how the whole thing really works

Ornaments I vividly remember making in preschool, proudly hung on my parents' tree, thirty years later

Satin pointe shoes, pastel tutus, strong legs that are unruffled by gravity, Waltz of the Flowers

Celebrating my birthday and feeling particularly optimistic about this number, 34. Like it really might be the year that some of the jumbled, mismatched pieces of my life will peacefully align.

Longing for my late grandparents' nurturing hugs... those doting arms that used to envelope me so easily...yet somehow feeling all four of them present, realizing they're here, affectionately observing, smiling, loving us still, even knowing (and adoring) the newest family members they hadn't met on this side of heaven.

In some miraculous way, seeing my Mamaw Kinder in the warm, dark eyes of my baby niece, her great-granddaughter. Genes. Are. Magic.

Cousins by marriage who feel like cousins you grew up with

Kitchens buzzing with assorted conversations- soft and light- who she ran into at the mall last week, what he surprised her with as an early Christmas gift, what the mischievous elf on the shelf did at their house, how he attained such a wonderfully hideous sweater, how she lost (and then found!) Grandma's recipe, the home they're restoring Chip and JoJo style and moving into next year...

Differences set aside. The best attributes of each person, seen and celebrated.

Listening with a room full of family to my husband's late grandfather's voice on a recording of The Night Before Christmas, and envisioning him there, his sapphire, kindest-you've-ever-seen eyes glistening, and savoring every sweet syllable that touches our ears.

Familiar movies playing in the background while comforting scents waft from the oven

Polite, respectful teenage nephews and cousins that aren't too cool for family games or hugs goodbye

Tracking Santa's path online before tucking drowsy, yet giddy little boys into the same cozy bed

Stopping to really think about it- a Savior born in a barn, by a virgin- and being completely bewildered by a story you've heard your whole life that somehow gets more meaningful, even more believable, every year

A fresh dusting of sparkling snow on Christmas morning, like a gift we forgot to wish for but were so grateful to have received

Shrieks of joy (and maybe relief? ha!), "Santa definitely came! I see something downstairs! He really did! I see it! I see it!" 

Bare feet trampling down the stairs when given the green light

Little fingers, stretching to flip on the lights, just within reach

Eyes full of wonder, "How did he know?" 

A baby girl, who hasn't the slightest idea what this occasion is all about, donning a plaid nightgown, trimmed with white, eyelet ruffles. Light radiates from her celestial face, illustrating her delight to have so many loved ones together in the same room, no matter the reason.

Chilled poppy seed bread baked with love and drizzled with vanilla-almond frosting by my mother-in-law, gently passed around the breakfast table, steadily becoming an anticipated, beloved staple on the Christmas morning menu.

Perfectly imperfect, handwritten gift tags printed with the utmost concentration, featuring squiggly E's, O's that don't quite connect, and words that fall off the paper. Intoxicating.

Adults admiring each of their gifts, deliberately unwrapping each one, while children can't help but tear into theirs, cheerfully ripping them open and graciously shouting, "Thank You!" before they even realize what they've acquired.

That peaceful calm after the euphoric, morning storm. Sipping a third cup of hot tea amidst the satisfying mess of shredded paper, empty boxes, and tiny specs of glitter, scattered throughout the carpet.

New traditions with my husband. Exchanging gifts with no audience. Digging into a stocking he filled especially for me. That perfect balance between our party of two and our big, beautiful extended families.

Feeling full, grateful, and ready to stream fresh ink onto the blank pages ahead.