I think college was the first time I realized what a unique and fabulous relationship some people have with their cousins. I grew up with cousins that I genuinely loved, but they weren't my very best friends. We didn't do all the things together and share a lifetime of hilarious memories and inside jokes. When I would hear friends talk about their relationships with their cousins, it intrigued me. My kids, also, have wonderful cousins that they love and adore and get excited to see . . . but they don't have that "magical" cousin relationship either. The majority of our kids' cousins live far away geographically and the others are "far away" from them in age.
So this is where the family that you choose for yourself comes in handy. My kids have wonderful "cousins" from our amazing community. Other kids with whom they share a lifetime of fun, hard, silly memories. Kids with a special bond, not from the fact that they are friends, but from the fact that entire families love spending time together. First birthday parties (stories they don't actually remember on their own, but have been told enough times to "know"), swimming in the pool, kindergarten programs, school stuff, retreats, orchestra concerts, karaoke, sledding, summer evening bonfires, plays, sporting events, carpools, picnics, birthday parties, funerals, YoungLife, before school Bible study . . .
Years ago we used to have an annual Christmas Open House. We'd invited tons of friends, have a bunch of food and hang out, our house filled with 50-60 friends. We were packed to the gills! One year, 4 or 5 years ago, there was a HUGE snow storm the day of our party. No one could get here! We didn't want anyone to be unsafe on the road, so finally we officially canceled. So, then we had TONS of food, but were lacking guests (and had a few sad kiddos . . . and disappointed parents). Thankfully, our dear friends, who both lived just blocks from our house and were planning to come anyway, braved the weather and came anyway. Some on foot, some in all-wheel-drive with shovels in back just in case. We ate and chatted and played games and sang songs and it was wonderful! Anyway, the tradition stuck. We haven't had a Christmas Open House since (at which you had lots of very minimal time with many people, but no meaningful time with anyone) and every year our 3 families have gathered for a meal and night together right before Christmas. It has become one of my favorite traditions of the year!
We put it on the calendar weeks ago and have been looking forward to it ever since. By 5:45 there were 18 people in our house and it. was. LOUD! A little after 6 we all gathered in the living room and sang The Doxology together before digging in to the dinner (which always has the same menu and TONS of food). Singing the Doxology together, instead of our normal pre-dinner prayer of thanks for the food and the friends and the birth of our Lord, was new this year and I loved it! Looking around at all these people that I love singing praise and thanks to the Lord together filled my heart (and my eyes) right up to the top (and maybe even a bit more). We ate, we chatted (which was tricky . . . if you were trying to hear someone that wasn't right next to you, you had to work really hard to hear them above the din of 12 kids, aged 5-18, who were enjoying each other's company with quite a bit of volume!), we laughed, we got teary. The kids cleared out. To the basement. Upstairs. To play hockey on the front porch. And we sat. The moms on one couch and the dads on the other.
Then, a couple hours later, Kirb turned on our player piano (also a MAJOR part of this annual tradition) and the kids came pouring in from every corner of the house with amazing speed and the fun really began. We sang together around the piano. Silent Night. The 12 days of Christmas (I'm always a bit uncertain once we get up past 5! Is it lords-a-leaping or drummers drumming? I usually just sing the numbers until we get down to 5 when I join in 100% again). Rudolf. Let it Snow. We probably have at least a couple dozen Christmas songs for our piano, but we seem to gravitate to the same half dozen or so for this night. Then, too quickly, people don their coats once again and head home for the night.
We clean up dishes, put kids to bed and bask in the wonderful time that we had, once again . . . and start looking forward 365 days until we can do it again. I know I've painted an idillic picture, but it really is an idilic night! Generally speaking, our lives all have tough things. Hurts. Pain. Sickness. Sorrow. Struggles. (Many of which we discussed in the time between The Doxology and Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer) But this night is a great reminder of all that we have to be grateful for. Good friends who are like family. Happy, healthy children. Shared faith. Fun. Laughter. Friendship. I thought, as I looked around the room, all of us gathered together in one place singing "Praise God from whom all blessings flow", that this is pretty much as happy as I get. Happy. Grateful. Contented. Blessed. Life is good! Thank you Lord!
(I didn't take one single picture -- only the ones in my memory -- but Lydia took a video of one of our sing-a-long numbers and if I can figure out how, I'll post it here for your viewing pleasure).