The joys of Christmas come not so much in the giving and receiving of gifts, but in the thoughts, emotions and prayers of the heart. This year, our children wanted to surprise their dad by coming to the farm to celebrate. It was a month in the making and took a lot of effort, sneaking around and a few downright lies, to pull it off. But we managed and the look on his face when he saw Ava, his precious granddaughter step into the room, and heard the sweetest 2 year old voice say, “Hi, Papa!” was beyond priceless. Next his daughter, Sarah, stepped out, and then his son-in-law, John. Although you could see the glimmer of tears in his eyes at that sight, when his son, James, (who lives in L.A.) stepped out, you could see his heart weep with joy. It was the one gift Randy really wanted, but thought he knew better than able to receive.

In keeping with our love of tradition, we all traipsed out into the pastures and cut down a cedar sapling for our Christmas tree. This poor thing could truly give Charlie Brown’s a run for its money, but as with most things, it just takes a lot of love to change it into something beautiful. I took some work, but James managed to anchor the skinny trunk in the stand. Sarah dug through the cellar and found lights to string, and John got a box of old ornaments and adorned the branches. It is truly a sight to behold.

From there it has been a vaguely organized chaos: from cooking, cleaning, bouncing on the bed with Ava, gift wrapping, cooking, cleaning, Christmas Eve Mass, shopping, cooking and a bit more cleaning. But throughout the days and evenings, there has been laughter, reminiscing, catching up, smiles, joy and wonder.

Christmas Eve merged two traditions. John is Italian, and in his family and culture, they do not eat meat on Christmas Eve. Instead, it is a celebration of the Seven Fishes. Even though the Country Boy and I do not know or understand the intent behind it, we chose to support him the best we could. So the menu for Christmas Eve was a traditional South Louisiana fare – fried fish, boiled shrimp and Crawfish Etoufee. I may not understand John’s tradition, but if I can get that kind of meal every Christmas Eve, I may just see if they will adopt me as an honorary Italian!

As I am writing this, the sun still hasn’t woken up, and all in the house are still sound asleep. But in a few hours, for the first time in many years, the Country Boy and I will once again get to take part in a small child waking up to a late night delivery from Santa Claus. I cannot wait to see the awe and wonder on her face, and hear the laughter and squeals and demands to “Drive, Gran! Drive, Papa!”, when she sees her new Minnie Mouse Volkswagen. And of course, Gran and Papa will haul the thing out to the road where she can drive straight to Disney World, if she so desires.

Still, in the silent moments this morning of walking the farm, feeding chickens, checking on cattle, and opening the gate for later visitors, I can’t help but wonder about the joy and smiles in the hearts of Mary and Joseph, as they sat looking upon the Glory of the Christ child. Their child, but really God’s Son. Were their hearts filled to bursting when the Wise Men finally caught up to them and delivered gifts to Him? How precious that moment in time must have been. I can only imagine.

And as I journey through this wonderful day with my Country Boy, our children, grandchildren and other family, I will ponder and keep that thought in the forefront of my mind and heart, and know that the true celebration is the special love and joy that was placed in our hearts on that early morning in a stable. A love and joy that has withstood the centuries, and will continue to do so throughout eternity.

For all my readers, I wish you a very Merry Christmas, with all the love God has to offer. After all, no gift we receive this year, or any other, will equal the gift we have already received.