There's a scene in the movie "The Parent Trap" where one of the twins, pretending to be her sister, hugs her grandfather tightly and kind of sniffs at him. When he asks what she's doing she replies: "Making a memory! Years from now, when I'm all grown up, I'll always remember my grandfather and how he always smelled of peppermint and pipe tobacco." Since my own grandpa also smelled of peppermint and pipe tobacco, this idea charmed me the very first time I heard it. And it contained an idea that has stuck with me ever since: We can deliberately choose to remember certain moments.
As I work at holiday preparations I often muse about what will make this Christmas memorable. It's not always possible to predict - some of the best memories are completely unplanned, but not all. As I look back over my Christmas memories it seems like it's about half and half. Half of my favorite memories were created by someone's intention: carefully chosen gifts, invited guests, inspired worship. Others were happenstance: blizzards, random encounters, life-stages. Either way, memories shape both our anticipation and our definition of Christmas.
I have many memories of Christmases past. Most of them make me smile. Two have shaped my Christmas perceptions more than any of the others. The first is probably from around age six. That was the year my mom introduced the tradition of Jesus' birthday cake. I can remember singing Happy Birthday to Jesus on Christmas day. There were even candles. It made the central point of the whole celebration so clear to me. The second was my last Christmas before becoming a parent. I was, as they say in the Bible, great with child. There would be no traveling to parents or in-laws that year. I remember hearing the Christmas story that year as if for the first time: a young couple, far from home, a child about to be born. . . it was God's story and it was my story.
Like Mary, I have pondered these, and many other memories, in my heart for years. Some of them may bear little resemblance to the "facts" of the event or to someone else's memory of it. They are my memories, and they are part of who I am. Like a river running through the hills, my memories have shaped the landscape of my life. They have rounded the sharp places and created new routes in my thoughts. Looking for things worth remembering is a useful habit, especially if you choose well.
I know, and we all know, people who seem to remember all the slights, the hurts and the disappointments of their lives. While they may truly never have had a happy moment to remember, I think it's more likely that their constant focus on past hurt has blinded them to the good things in the present. Others are constantly comparing this year to their "perfect" memories of Christmas past and always feeling that the present falls short. This is equally blinding. We can't really focus on two things at the same time. This is where looking for things worth remembering can be helpful. If we are looking for things to happily remember in the future, we will not be busy remembering unhappy things from the past or finding fault with the present. (I'm not advocating for pretending things never happened or that everything is perfect when it's not.) I am just choosing to make memories in the present. To BE PRESENT in the present and not lost in the past.
Have yourself a merry little Christmas and please, make some wonderful memories!