Holding it Dear

Ah, December.

My daughter’s Advent book says that this month’s name is derived from the Latin word decem, meaning ten, because it was originally the tenth month of the year in the calendar of Romulus.

But I’ve got another theory. Could it also be because everything – everything! – in the month of December is dialed all the way up to a ten? The joy! The meltdowns. The grief. The love and the pain and the regret. The absolute delight! The resentment. The hope! It all feels pressing, impossible to escape, pregnant with purpose and wonder and memories of the many things we got right and the many things we didn’t, or perhaps never will.

This is the month in which, for many of us, the daily inner-workings of the home multiply into every corner possible: more groceries to buy (can you bring those walnuts again?), more lists to make (move card table to basement), more reminders to set (don’t forget to pick up uncle adam from airport), more questions to answer (henry’s a size 4 in pjs – thank you for thinking of him!). There are messes to clean and projects to manage and the little ones are tugging at your pants in need of scissors to wrap their sweet, beloved (messy/oversized/sticky/oddly-shaped and completely impractical) sculpture concocted out of of Elmer’s and cotton balls. Did I mention the messes to clean?

The labor, of course, is largely invisible. Stockings stuffed in the dim of the dark, gifts wrapped long into the night. Notes sent, neighbors thanked, workers tipped, kids excited, house decorated, families welcomed, fridge filled, recipes found, menus planned, seating moved, music played, candles lit, stories read, traditions kept.

Year after year, like magic.

Until one day.

In just a few short years, our frenzy and frantic will vanish right up the chimney and we’ll be left with a few drifting hours. Our hands won’t be as full, our table won’t be as crowded, our stockings will hang limp, and we’ll give anything to sweep up the crazed pine needle mess, to wash icing out of her hair once more, to hide gold coins in his sneakers tonight.

We know we’d do it all over again and again, a million times over. The hustle, the bustle (yes, even the glitter). Someday, far sooner than we’d like, we’ll finally catch our breath and we’ll wonder: Did any of it mean anything – to anyone? 

Will they remember? We can’t yet know.

The whispered work, the invisible labor, the limited resources – the faith that it will all be worth it in the end. Every sleepless thought: could we have done more, should we have stressed less, would it have meant more? Perhaps it’s these secret wonderings that make this season more sacred, more human, more divine.

While mortals sleep the angels keep their watch of wondering love…

After all, if there’s anything Christmas reminds us, it’s this: our king-sized expectations can, and must, fit into a lowly manger.

I am thinking of this tonight, as I wrap a Slinky in butcher paper, as I tie it carefully with a quiet burlap bow, knowing it will soon be ripped to shreds, paper discarded, ribbon saved for one of Bee’s monumental craft projects come Jan 1.

The wrapping, the containing, the concealing.
The waiting, like a swaddled secret.

The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight.

This morning, I read a few simple words in Luke. Just one line. Just a small part of a bigger birth story, a simple pause that follows a long and grueling labor of love and light, of hope and humanity: “Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself.”

Keeping all these things. Holding them dear. Deep within ourselves.

That’s the trick, isn’t it? The remembering.

Even if no one else does. Even with fuller-than-full to-do lists. Even amidst limp stockings, empty chairs, grieving hearts. Even when the budget doesn’t allow for merriment, when family tensions are running high, when this year just isn’t what you wanted – or needed – it to be.

Holding it dear.

Counting every year, carrying every memory, tucking them all inside – to keep, and to keep close.

To remember delight, at 10, when you shrieked at the red Schwinn under your Fraser fir. To remember love, at 20, when he held the mistletoe over your front door. To remember joy, at 30, as your bleary-eyed toddler twirls to the Nutcracker suite in his Batman pajamas. To remember hope, at 40, when the whole congregation swells into the song of Cantique de Noël. To know peace, at 50, 60, 99 – when you remember it all.

For every decade, and every decade next, to be reminded of the glorious truth: When we give much away, we keep far, far more.

Merry Decembers to you, friends.



p.s. Come journal with us in 2023.

  • Beautiful ❤ Thank you for the reminder to hold it dear. Merry Christmas Erin!

  • Perfect timing. Delight in the simple things because they are the big things. What would our Christmas be without the 2 crooked painted wooden Christmas trees made with love 30+ years ago. Christmas will always be magical if we remember the small hands that made those beautiful trees. Love never ends. Thanks for your beautiful words.

  • Lovely words and a timely reminder. I will re-read this through these next weeks and take them to heart. Thank you. ❤️

  • So beautiful. Needed this reminder with two little ones. I don’t think I’ll ever miss the sleep deprivation of the early days, but one day, I know I will miss the messes. Xoxo. Happy holidays! Thank you for your words.

  • Wow! What a beautiful piece! You’ve touched my heart and reminded me to breathe, to listen and to ponder. ♥️ Merry Christmas!

  • Dear Erin, You weave magic with your words. Thank you for reminding us that our fuller than full todo lists are what makes this busy season of life a delight for our loved ones and a memory that we will cherish forever when the stocking limp, and the chairs are empty. Here’s wishing you and your family, and all the other readers a Merry Christmas and happy holidays.

  • I get so happy seeing your name in my email. This was a pleasure to read and see!

  • I LOVE the way you write…
    I will reread many times…add to the other writings on the season by my bedside…
    I will print and paste in my journal…
    I will share with the people I hold dear…
    Merry Christmas!

  • Each passed year is an iventary that displays our good and bad sides, our joyful moments and sad ones. We may be repeating the same habits each year, but surely not with the same mood nor the same age nor the same thought, we are growing and reaching a certain wisdom which makes things change all over the next years. Time is like a sword, has two edges, one is teaching us, the other is wearing us out, we are supposed to benefit from each moment, before it fades away and cut the thread that relates us to life.

  • Erin, thank you for writing this and making me think.
    They will remember, I assure you. My fondest holiday memories are a swirl or warmth and smells and hugs, from my grandparents and mom, who worked So. Very. Hard. to deliver a magical Christmas for my sister and me every year.
    They’re gone now and I share a tiny Christmas with my wonderful spouse, and what makes me smile – or weep tears of gratitude – are the memories of 40 years ago. I can still feel their love, and that still brings me joy and peace.

  • Thank you! This is wonderfully written, and I shared it on my Facebook pages, and with my kids. Have a blessed holiday season!

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