This Christmas season has been very difficult for me. It was the first Christmas without Dad. It's not like he was the boisterous center of attention during Christmas, but, to me, he was the quiet watcher.
My brothers may remember things differently, but to me it seemed that Christmas was Dad's favorite holiday. The lights, the food, the pleasure he got from watching us open our gifts, these are what made it Christmas. When we lived on the farm, Dad would put up the outdoor Christmas lights/decorations each year. He seemed to take particular pleasure from the comments he received from the beet truck drivers. It seems our Christmas lights cheered them up on their middle of the night runs.
I can't remember him ever going to our Christmas pageants at church, but he must have. I can remember sitting squished in the back seat of the car with our peanut bags and Dad driving us around town to see the lights. We only got "peanut bags" (bags filled with unshelled peanuts, fruit, and candy) as we walked out of church following the Christmas pageants, so Dad must have gone to at least a couple of them when I was little.
Then on Christmas morning he would sit quietly off to the side to watch us open our gifts. Every year the small gifts we got for him would be stacked in a small pile beside him. Not until we had opened all of our gifts and were fully distracted would he open his. When we were younger, my brothers and I would get him things like a deck of cards, a box of chocolate covered cherries, or a tin of cookies. As we got older, got jobs, and could afford more there were the small tools and videos. But always, Dad would wait until he thought we weren't looking to open his presents and for a long time I wondered why. Then one year, while I was in high school, I sat and watched him. There was a joy in his eyes that I didn't see at any other time as he watched us open our gifts and be surprised at the simple treasures he and mom had given us. And there was a wishfulness there as well, a yearning for the ability to give us more. With seven kids to raise there wasn't a lot of money left over for lavish gifts and we often received things we needed over things we wanted. How he wished he could have given us more.
But that year, my most precious gift was seeing how he took joy in giving to us what he could. He loved watching us, discovering what our favorite gift had been. Seeing the once neat pile of gifts be replaced by the chaos of flying paper and newly emptied boxes, while the Christmas tree lights blinked silently behind us. And I think that, while he appreciated the small baubles we gave him, each year our greatest gift to him was letting him watch us build our dreams from the simple things he gave us.
This is what I'll miss most about Christmas each year. The smile in his eyes, and the quiet laughter, his presence on the periphery of the action, his happiness in my happiness.
Merry Christmas Dad.