They recall the visions of another mom from 2,000 years ago and how her son’s life would be
By George Valadie
“ … while visions of sugarplums danced in their heads.”
Now that I think about it, I have no clue what a sugarplum is and have never eaten one that I know of, at least not on purpose.
But for what is now 200 years (first published in 1823), people all over the world have talked about them, imagined them, and some apparently dreamed of them.
In the warmth of home, surrounded by loved ones, the recitation of Clement Moore’s Christmas classic, with its images of “stockings hung with care” and “new-fallen snow” . . . well, it’s all been known to melt many a heart and fill even the Scroogiest among us with at least a little twinge of anticipation.
Far and away, though, the best part is getting to watch our children as they listen and imagine—each with visions of their own making. Though sugarplums no longer make any kid’s wish list, that sort of youthful excitement and pure joy are hard to match.
But it’s not just the kids who can dream. To this day, my wife, Nancy, still has visions of what and how she wants each Christmas holiday to unfold. Some years have rolled out just that way—others, not so much.
Early on, things were much simpler. Our parents lived in the same city, and it was our moms who cleaned and cooked and hosted our Christmas dinners. “Maybe you could bring some ice,” was their way of allowing us to just show up, little ones in tow.
Still, Nanc did all the gift shopping for our pretty decent-sized family. She fretted over each individual purchase, hopeful she had found the ideal present for just the right person. She does the same today.
“I bought this blouse for your sister. What do you think?”
“I think she’ll love it.”
“Yeah, I thought so, too. I’m taking it back tomorrow.”
Visions. Refined with a few exchange trips.
And no one loves wrapping presents more than she does. Each is handled with true loving care, creasing the perfect paper just so, finishing each with the perfectly curled ribbon for the perfect person. It’s more artwork than wrapping.
One Christmas Eve, before heading over to her folks’ house for the annual soiree with her side of the family, we decided to attend Mass downtown.
“Be careful with those ribbons when you put them in the car.”
When we came out of church, however, we discovered our car had been burglarized, and every gift we had packed for them was gone. Ribbons and all.
The kids cried and freaked and cried some more. We made an effort to calm their fears and tears by trying to help them see that even though stealing was wrong, perhaps the gifts were going to a family who had none.
And then—like the drummer boy—we showed up to Christmas dinner with nothing. Neither drum nor drumstick.
At evening’s end, our family headed home with an embarrassment of riches, made more embarrassing by the fact we had arrived empty-handed.
I don’t know if it helped or not when I said for all to hear, “Nanc, I think they fell for it.”
Years later, we lived out of town, the kids were grown, and we no longer made it home as often as we had when they were small.
In fact, our oldest was newly married, and for the first time we experienced every parent’s first-world Christmas nightmare—taking turns—and having your child spend the holidays with their in-laws.
Happy for our son-in-law to be with his family and happy for our daughter’s happiness to be with him, still, their absence crushed Nancy’s vision of what Christmas was supposed to be.
So, she adamantly declared we absolutely were not going to spend that Christmas in our house with one of her girls not there. So, she packed us up and said we’re going back to Chattanooga to visit family. “I’m not sitting here and being sad!”
When I say she packed us up, that needs some clarification. Though she didn’t want to spend Christmas in our house, she was not leaving without taking most all the decorations that helped it feel that way.
When I said, “Honey, there’s no room for this six-foot tree and these ornaments,” she cried.
So, I re-packed, found it a spot, and we pulled up to the Marriott looking not unlike the Beverly Hillbillies.
If memory serves me, I’m pretty sure it was somewhere along that drive the first time she told our other two girls, “Y’all just have to marry orphans. I don’t like sharing.”
To which Sarah replied, “Mom, there aren’t many dating websites for Catholic orphans.”
Our hotel room vomited all things Christmas, including—and I kid you not—a tree-shaped nut dish she had packed, though none of us ever ate nuts.
Among the many wrapped gifts we had packed for family were also those for our daughters marked “From Santa,” a tradition we kept until the grandkids came along.
Picture four adults, two double beds, four suitcases, a tree, a nut dish, and bedtime.
Though the lights were out, it was Christmas Eve and visions of sugarplums—or whatever—were keeping us all awake.
N (whispering): “George, do you think they’re asleep?”
G: “No, I don’t. We just turned the lights out.”
N: “Shhh! They’ll hear you.”
Two daughters laughing in the other bed.
N: “You need to set out their Santa gifts. But be quiet.”
Two daughters laughing louder in the other bed.
G: “You’ve lost your ever-loving mind.”
N: “They didn’t hear you, did they?”
G: “No, not over their laughter.”
And on Christmas morning, for her benefit alone, they dutifully and laughingly faked surprise that Santa had found them in this hotel.
N: “We left Santa a note at our house so he’d know where to find y’all.”
Through the years and to this day, when someone’s plans have gone terribly south and disappointment has set in, our family has reminded each other, “Your mistake was having a vision.”
Two thousand years ago another mom had visions of her own, pondering what life would be like for her family and her Son.
Gabriel’s visit aside, sitting in that stable that night, gazing into her newborn’s face, He was just a baby, and she was just a mom. Thinking mom thoughts, dreaming mom dreams. Imagining the incredible life awaiting Him.
She already knew her boy was a miracle. How could she not also help but recall the angel’s words?
“He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High and the Lord God will give Him the throne of David his father, and He will rule over the House of Jacob forever and of His kingdom there will be no end.”
He’s the one we’ve been waiting for.
But things happen. And visions go awry. Sometimes horribly so.
And she could never have imagined that.
However, she also could not foresee the billions of people the world over who would follow and celebrate her boy.
As you and your family celebrate that same mother’s son, Nancy and I and our family hope your Christmas holiday dreams are everything you envision they might be.
Dear God—Peace on earth, good will to all. It sounded like the perfect vision. Maybe we’ll get closer this next year. Thank you for letting us try again. Amen.
George Valadie is a parishioner at St. Stephen Church in Chattanooga.