One December evening after I finally finished my nightly wiping up of slop, heave-ho, and potato cement from under the dinner table, I slipped into the living room alone. All the children were scattered around the house: some yelling, some hibernating, and others imitating sumo wrestlers. I pushed the hair away from my face with my dishpan hands and took a slow, deep breath before I sat down and began quietly playing Christmas hymns on the piano. The music must have slipped through the heat vents, for one by one the children spontaneously wandered into the living room. Except for a single brass light above the piano, the room was dark. The hard wooden piano bench soon grew warm as my 2-year-old snuggled up on my right side while her 10-year-old sister squeezed in on my left. Then the baby crawled across the carpet, elbowed her way through my legs, and started playing with my big toe as it bobbed up and down on the sustaining pedal. Seven- and 8-year-old sumo wrestlers untangled themselves and tumbled into the room long enough to belt out a few tunes while standing guard behind me.
You’ve never really heard “Joy to the World” until you’ve heard a 7-year-old, with total abandon and a little off key, command from the depths of his soul, “Joy to the world! The Lord is come! Let earth receive her king! Let every heart repair him room! And saints and angels swing!” Later, when our voices were tired and squeaky, we did “Silent Night,” complete with “Round John Virgin.” As we rounded the corner to “Sleep in heavenly peace; Sleep in heavenly peace,” it hit: that skin-tingling, hold-your-breath moment when the magic, mys-tery, and wonder of Christmas was mine.
At that precise moment, it didn’t matter that our bud-get was having a hard time stretching for a family of eleven. It didn’t matter that within seconds my “heavenly choir” would return to sumo wrestling on the living room floor. For I had learned that moments like these are fleeting. Like winter’s frost, with a breath, childhood melts away. So I sighed, detached the baby from my toe, and kissed all those Junior Tabernacle Choir members on the forehead before they could pull away, yelling, “Yuck, kissing. I hate kissing.” Christmas comes but once a year, with or without the mistletoe—you have to grab those kisses while you can.