Dear Christmas Quilt,
A couple days before Christmas, I finally found you in a box I had packed away. I looked for you for weeks and couldn’t find you. I thought I had given you away, or worse, thrown you out by accident.
Years ago, I made you for the couch – a holiday quilt to snuggle under on cold winter days. You were the first quilt I had ever made. You gave comfort to sick and feverish children. You kept multiple pairs of legs covered as we finished knitting and sewing our handmade gifts. You were a lesson in sharing and how to keep warm together.
Here is a pic of you in 2012 keeping my babies warm:
We used to all fit underneath you – all seven of us. Chris and I used to be book ends to squirmy little ones who overlapped each other’s bodies like squished sardines in a can. We would watch Christmas movies together all snuggled together with at least half of us falling asleep beneath you. You held us all together through a lot of laughs and some tears, the emotional highs and lows of the holidays.
When I pulled you out the other day, you seemed so small. Although it has only been a year since we last saw you, the kids seem so much bigger than you now. I was excited to show you to the kids.
You see, our old home, the house itself, played a big role in so many of our family traditions. This is what I wanted for my family when we created it. I wanted the children to associate the season with family activities that brought us joy and warmth and an opportunity for reflection on our year during the darkest time.
Our advent calendar was centred around doing things together every day. The ultimate emphasis on gift-giving through acts of kindness. Each daily envelope held a love note for each child plus an activity to do as a family. For example, one day we would call three different people and tell them you love them. Some days had us baking cookies for our neighbours or handing out wool socks to the homeless or finding “peace” in ten languages. Other days had us watching a favourite movie together or sing carols under you – our family holiday quilt.
We made all our gifts including many little quilts like you. We would use all of our scraps and create quilts and little stuffed toys for all the new babies in our family as a welcome present. We knitted scarves, sewed cowls, and made hats for family and each other. This was a huge part of our homeschool year – our crazy month of handwork, my own little Santa’s workshop. If you walked into our house a week or two before Christmas, you would see a child at the cutting mats with piles of thread and cut fabric all over the floor around her. You would hear the buzzing of the sewing machine. You would see another one at the ironing board. The rest would be cuddled under you knitting or hand sewing. I would be moving from station to station helping with the tough parts of the project – the cutting, the turning, the lining up – and then running to the kitchen to take the spiral bread out of the oven to eat as a reward for a hard day’s work.
We would take tea breaks to snack and sit with you stretched across us as I gave pep talks of encouragement to weary fingers and tired eyes.
I remember piecing together each tree on you. You were supposed to be filled with them but I had babies needing me and I settled on a few trees in the centre with “snow” surrounding them. I remember binding you and the kids watching me patiently sew your edges. They couldn’t wait to play with you – to use you as a roof for their indoor fort or just hold you in their arms.
I was excited to pull you out for them to see again this Christmas. I imagined them all under you again. I wanted to see them all fit under you again desperately. But I found you late. There were only a handful of days left of us all being together. I pulled you out and was overwhelmed by memories. The sight of you brought back visions of my babies crawling under a tree that had ornaments only on the top half and kids making mini gingerbread houses on the big dining room table. When they saw you spread out on my bed, they didn’t react with the joy that I thought they would. The kids touched your trees so delicately as if you weren’t real and the act of touching you would make you disappear into the land of Christmas Past. One of them kept touching the little handmade tag on the back.
They smiled with a quiet sadness. I watched them and knew how they felt. Because we hadn’t pulled out any of our old decorations or even did any of our traditions this year, you were a reminder of what Christmas once was and those traditions we had let go of this year. I could have tried to cling to them and force them this season but I needed to hit pause. I couldn’t just move on trying to fit the old with where we are now. We talked about it as a family. We talked about having this year be simpler and to enjoy the seventeen days we had as a family of seven before we would have to say goodbye again. We talked about spending quality time with family and friends instead of a few hours here and there for a quick hello. It was ok to reminisce and talk about what we missed. It was ok to grieve the loss of something that would never be the same again.
We still watched our favourite movies together and cuddled under the blanket in our bed but you stayed folded on the floor. No one fought over you. One child would pick you up occasionally and spread you out on top, trying to cover us all, but somehow you wound up on the floor again and again. You no longer could fit us all even if we tried to squeeze ourselves and sit on each other’s laps. I remember a year when they all fit in it on the small couch. I could hear them laughing and giggling from the kitchen and I distinctly remember feeling that I was taking this time for granted. We homeschooled so we were able to be together every single day and have a whole December of baking, singing, making, and giving. Every time I would feel completely exhausted from writing love notes until 2am or reading all the winter holiday books over and over again for hours, I knew that a time would come when those moments would end and the days of all of us just being together would be fewer and fewer.
As I sit at the computer this morning, I pull you onto my lap. I look at the little tree in the centre, the one with the heart on it. I hand stitched that heart right before I pieced it all together.
I told the kids that the little bit of red gave some visual interest to the tree and it looked cute. I never told them the truth. It was a secret between you and I. I put a piece of my heart into this quilt, my love for each one of them. But the hand stitched heart was also a reminder for me. It was a reminder that putting effort into building traditions was worth it. Stitching this quilt while having a toddler on my lap or a little one unplugging the foot pedal over and over again was worth it. Traditions would hold us tightly while we grew and figured things out. They would give us comfort and security. They would ground us and help us define what was essential to our family.
The sun streams in now for the first time in days. The darkest days are behind us once again. As the holiday season comes to a close, I will put you away again. Thank you for keeping us warm and holding us together over the years. Thank you for giving my heart a place to rest this morning as it ached. Thank you for reminding me how traditions are built slowly and that it’s ok to build new ones.