I just returned from our first family Christmas dinner without Gramma, which went surprisingly well. With all due respect to Gramma, it was one of the most relaxed dinners we've had in a long time. Perhaps because no one felt the need to be on best behavior for Gramma's sake and we were all our true selves? I don't know why exactly.
Maybe because we all realize that life and family are precious, made even more so in the past year due to the loss of the one person we all had in common and loved dearly. We used to come to Christmas at Gramma's for her benefit. But this past year, as we all stood around the casket, mourning the loss of one of the most beautiful, feisty, and incredible women I've ever known, the question that I heard over and over from my cousins was "Will we still see you at Christmas?" Funny the things we struggle to hold on to in times of loss.
And we enjoyed being together today. We spent part of the afternoon reminiscing, sorting through old photos, recapturing moments from our childhood when life was simpler and there were no "family politics" ~ at least none that mattered to us. We took the photos that meant the most to each of us and thanked God for the invention of scanners for the ones we might have fought over.
No one asked today where the pizza was ~ a long-standing family joke when we would stare at each other over the usual spread of two meats, various vegetable dishes (including Gramma's broccoli salad), and miscellaneous condiments, pickles, olives, rolls, and butter mints. Instead, we had barbecue sandwiches and some of the "usual fare" but we didn't sit in our unassigned usual seats at the table or eat off of actual plates. And somehow we all mingled, rather than separating into the usual two groups of the "Christians" and the "Pagans."
One tradition I did miss today, however, was the skunk in the manger. It all started "innocently" enough when one or both of my twin uncles (the youngest of the siblings and the self-proclaimed trouble-makers), decided to add Gramma's ceramic skunk into her nativity set ~ always somewhere new. And one year the skunk replaced Jesus in the manger. It was intended to annoy Gramma and was, at least in part, rather purposely sacrilegious of course, and always upset Gramma. And then one year, the skunk disappeared entirely.
Who knows where that skunk is now? Such a little trouble-maker, it symbolized so much. It symbolized the fact that we all come to Christmas, and to God from very different angles. Some of us come as the shepherds, the wise men, the angels, the holy family, or even the animals. But we all belong there - together - and even the skunk is welcome, one of the most odious of creatures to many people. Welcome at the manger.
And as much as I don't condone the skunk replacing God in the manger, I would love to someday find a little skunk to add to my own nativity set. A simple reminder of, not only Gramma and the part that those memories play in who I am today, but also of God's love and grace.