I need to mention a couple of additional highlights at this point - one highlight is something I forgot to include from our Tree Hunt and one was an event that I hope becomes an annual tradition and was perhaps the most spiritual moment of my entire holiday.
First off, I can't believe I forgot to include two of my very favorite details from my account of our Bear Lake trip. For one thing, I was at my sister's house the week before our trip and was browsing her bookshelves. My eye fell upon a tattered little book that I hadn't seen in years but had very strong memories of reading. It's called The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. I asked if I could borrow it and brought it with us to Bear Lake. During one of our lazy mornings (or, let's face it, it could have been the afternoon but I couldn't actually tell...) the kids were getting restless and so I pulled it out and began to read.
I hadn't read the book since I was a kid but I remembered it so well. Only this time, as so many childhood things go when you revisit them as an adult, it was just so much more poignant. We weren't able to finish the book while we were still at the cabin, but as we were starting our drive home I pulled it out and finished it up. It was so fun to have everyone's attention captured even if it freaked them out slightly at the end when I got emotional and cried through the last few paragraphs. It's a really great book and everyone agreed that reading it should become part of our Christmas every year.
My other great memory from the trip also happened in the car on the way home. After we finished up our story and I dried my eyes and wiped my nose, we realized that we were in need of some Christmas music due to the fact that Inigo is sadly lacking in a stereo. That will happen some day. But for this day, we needed some Christmas music, stat! What else was there to do but start singing? One of us began to sing the first of the approximately 7 Christmas Carols we know all the words to, and miracle of miracles, everyone started singing along...even the 7th grade boy. At the top of his lungs with the rest of us. Probably the best of the bunch was The Twelve Days of Christmas, which we sang all the verses of, although we altered the "Five Golden Rings!" to "Five Argyle Socks!" in our best Bert voices. (If you are unfamiliar with the Sesame Street version of this carol, you may want to check it out.) This led to Troy teaching the kids all about Bob and Doug McKenzie and their equally heartfelt version of the the 12 Days. Which then led to me having some concerns and thus talking to the kids about not singing this song in school, especially the part about how on the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me....a beer. No matter how funny they thought that was and how many times they repeated that one line.
On another and completely different note, I have to share the brightest moment of my holiday. My heart was absolutely filled.
Our Mormon church building is right exactly next to a Catholic...parish? Is that the right word? It's a Catholic church building and our front doors are just yards away from one another, but never once have I interacted with a single member there. We just don't really cross paths that much. However, a very close friend of ours by the name of Rick used to live in Washington D.C. and while he was there, his ward held an annual joint meeting with their Catholic neighbors and he did the footwork here to do the same thing. He just went over and met with the priests there and thus began preparations for a joint meeting for Christmas.
The details of how it all was put together don't really matter, just that Sunday before Christmas, the 20th, our congregations each met separately at first to hold our own mass and sacrament meetings, and then our big gang walked out our front doors and trooped on over into their building, where they made room for us in their beautiful meeting room. We squished in together. We actually mingled - there was not a Mormon side and a Catholic side. The program began with everyone singing O Come O Come Emmanuel together and I'm going to tell you, the feeling in that room filled me with absolute joy. What a manifestation of brotherly love, of kindness and true Christlike actions. Our choir sang In the Bleak Midwinter, and they have a band (yes, a band! With drums and electric guitars!) that did a really fun song as well. Bitty was especially enthused about the band and requested that we also consider getting a band at church. We each had a youth speaker and we each had our clergy leader speak. Our bishop and their Father spoke - very wise messages that really included everyone listening. Funny and sweet and joyful and just lovely.
Then, oh then, that entire bunch of 300 people marched right back over to the LDS church where we filed down into our basement cultural hall (aka gymnasium) and lined up for soup and bread and filled every seat and every standing corner with people talking and eating. Everyone, it seemed, was anxious to reach out and make a connection. I had envisioned something awful like all of the members of each congregation just sitting in tight and uncomfortable and separate little groups, not talking. But it totally wasn't like that. People tried hard to get to know each other, to try each other's soups, and we Mormons even very bravely served coffee to make sure everyone felt at home. What a sight that was - a big percolator of coffee right in our Mormon gym! And that to me was really the true meaning of Christmas - that loving one another and serving our neighbors was the most important thing. I'll never forget it, and hope it becomes an annual tradition.