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The Spirit of the Season

Text by: Brittany Knotts

The last months of the year mean different things to different people. Some love them for the reprieve from the heat they usher in, while some dislike them for the very same reason. Some look forward to them for the feasts, and some enjoy them, because they mean an extended break from studies. But for me, they're about the magic of the holidays. Every fall and winter I look forward to that extra something in the air. I don't know if it's the sparkling lights that line the streets; the ornate decorations; the warm and comforting scents; the Christmas music; the beautiful snowy landscapes; or the giving spirit that seems infectious to all, but there's something… something very special. And I've known and felt it for as long as I can remember.
© Jessica Ceason Photography

As a child, it meant Christmas and birthday presents — yes, I'm one of those "lucky" individuals fortunate enough to have come into this world on December the 25th. I remember making my list, checking it twice, and absolutely delighting in waking on that cold, December morning to see what Santa and my parents had left for me under the tree. To this day, I compile a list throughout the year, thinking about what I'd like to receive from the various loved ones in my life. And I've oft' been disappointed in the outcome. One year ALL I wanted was a surfboard. That was it! Just a surfboard. But instead, I received… a motor scooter. I felt justified in my disappointment for years to come. And I'm fairly certain I'm not alone in this. With commercialism galore in nearly all aspects of our lives, it's not difficult to get wrapped up (no pun intended) in the lists, the shopping, the gifts, and the general 'buy, buy, buy' attitude our society seems to ooze and promote with increased enthusiasm around the holidays.

But what's the holiday season really about? What are we really supposed to delight in on Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Festivus, New Year's, etc.? I've come to realize, it's not the material.

My father grew up in Virginia before he and his older sister both moved to California in the mid-seventies, leaving behind my Nana, Papa, Aunt Lisa, and Uncle Mark (who passed away in 2000). We visit when we can, but never around the holidays. This all changed one December when my dad, brother, aunt, uncle, cousin, and I flew back East to surprise my grandparents. We would, for the first time in my nearly 20 years, spend Christmas all together as a family.

There are many reasons I will never forget Christmas of 2007, but it was especially memorable because it was one of the last times I would see Nana. The "California children and grandchildren" arrived first to the beautiful cabin in Union, West Virginia where we would stay. Aunt Lisa then transported Nana and Papa to the cabin where we all surprised them. We played games, decorated a gingerbread house, made stockings, cooked delicious food, and simply talked around the fire. It was the first Christmas I'd really experienced without an emphasis on gifts, and I loved it. We did have a small birthday cake for my Christmas Eve-born Uncle Frank and me. And we did have a gift exchange, but it was nothing extravagant. We drew names and went into the little downtown area to buy gifts with a $10 limit to give to one another on Christmas morning. It definitely wasn't the highlight of the week, though.

© Brittany Knotts

I'd started to realize it before, that lesson I am presented with each year as I watch "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," and my heart grows three sizes. But it had never hit me quite the way it did during that trip: The holidays and this season are not about surfboards, clothing, electronics, or even scrumptious food. And in my case, they're not about receiving attention and gifts for my birthday. They're about spending time with family and friends. They're about being together and basking in those relationships we may not always appreciate. They're about muffling the noise of the world and focusing on the most important gift in this life: Love.

It was the first and last time I got to spend Christmas with my dad's whole family. I will always treasure the look on my grandparents' faces when they saw us, quietly sitting next to Nana on the couch, and laughing hysterically as we all played "battle of the sexes" Pictionary. And I'll always remember watching my grandparents, who had been married for over 60 years when Nana passed away, hold hands and cry as they opened their special gifts from us all — photo collages of their four children and five grandchildren.

Now Nana is gone, in my mind to a place where she and Uncle Mark can watch over us all. Even so, I'll always have my memories of her from that Christmas spent together as a family. The experience has taught me to really try my best to look past the giving of gifts and holiday hubbub to the truly important things in life. So no matter what you celebrate (or don't celebrate), try to focus on the true spirit of the season. Turn off the television, have a gift-free holiday, or even wear blinders to the mall if you must, but push the materialism out, and invite family, friends, and Love in. The magic you thought you felt in years past will be felt tenfold. That's what Christmas means to me.

© Jessica Ceason Photography

May each and every one of you be blessed and content this holiday season and all those to come.