A big family growing further apart needed something special to keep them together.
It was a tradition that went back generations. Amanda had been anointed by Grandma Sherry to do the honors this Christmas Eve. The fireplace was lit. Pinecones popped liked firecrackers making the younger children gather before the rising sparks with delight. Cinnamon and cloves loaned the air with their festive scents. The traditional fresh oranges were passed around from hand to hand.
There were shushing sounds from aunts as the hustle and bustle of gathering the clan was accomplished. All took their places as grandpa tapped his glass. His lips smiled behind his Santa like beard. “Amanda will say the Christmas prayer this year.”
A murmur of thanksgiving came from the children’s tables gathered in a circle around the grown-up one. “Good. She’s too young to make it an hour long like in the past.” Red-headed Sandy yelped. Several disapproving frowns and glaring adult eyes put him quickly in his place. A giggle or two from young lips favored him with secret smiles.
“Go Ahead. Amanda. I talked about giving you this privilege weeks ago because of what I heard about you this past year.” Grandpa raised his hand for quiet. Instead of the usual hush, there were unexpected gasps of surprise from nieces and nephews.
“What has she done that is so special?” Mary Ann whined and pouted. Mary Ann’s mother blushed. Her father stammered out, “I’m sorry. Go on, grandpa.”
But the damage had been done. The mood was destroyed. There was no humble reverence nor feeling of gratitude in the unbowed heads on display. Each shone forth with either unabashed curiosity at having missed the latest gossip or annoyance at not being the center of it. The latter were few but cast a dark shadow wherever their glances were spread.
Missy the best brown nose of the bunch was the worst. She couldn’t help mumbling. “That should be me saying grace this year. I deserve the present given afterward, too. Didn’t I offer to help grandpa out with anything he needed? All he had to do was ask.” The elders basking in the warmth near the fireplace shivered and grimaced at this rebellion.
“I see an explanation is in order before we proceed.” Grandpa tugged at his beard and stood a little taller, his voice became firmer with a hint of the strength he’d had in years gone by. “Do you want to tell why you were chosen or should I, Amanda?”
All eyes followed his towards the blushing girl. Grandma Sherry laid her hand on that of her husband. Her halo of white air bounced in place. “I shall if everyone is willing?” This break in the order of celebration made everyone realize something special was going to happen. Grandpa Spirval nodded soberly as he helped his wife to her feet to stand at his side.
“Several of you youngun’s were in the contest for this year’s dinner blessing. How you blessed the lives of others was often discussed but when it came down to the wire there was only one who truly stood out from everyone.” Grandma Sherry motioned to Amanda to come up and receive a hug. “Stay here, child. I want all eyes on you. I know you can’t stand being in the limelight. You prefer giving to others without them knowing who their blessings came from. “
The fireplace chose that moment to make a sharp popping sound and shoot a glowing ember out onto the rock hearth. “Make a wish.” Sandy popped up.
“I wish you to bring that basket up. Yes, that one by my rocking chair.” Grandma Sherry accepted the gift, smiling as the boy fled back to his place with a proud look on his face at being made the center of even the briefest moment of attention.
“Each family here has seen this basket come unannounced to their door this past year. Some did so several times. In my own grandmother’s time it was used as a way of keeping family ties close.” The empty basket was flipped upside down and raised high enough for all to see. “The same words are pasted on the back as were there in that distant time.”
Grandmother Sherry passed the basket to Amanda, urging her to read the inscription. She was a younger image of Grandmother Sherry cut from the same cloth in loving spirit. “The food in this basket was made with love and sent your way. Enjoy the fruits, nuts, candies, and pasties. When done, fill it up and pass it on to another of our growing family you want to wish well.”
Grandpa Sprival hugged his wife, took the basket from Amanda’s willing hands and set it down where the Christmas gift usually was given to that year’s prayer giver.
“Some traditions come and go or fade with the passage of time. This one lay forgotten for several years until given rebirth by Amanda after reading Great Grandmother’s journal. Look around you. What do you see?”
There were so many heads searching in every direction that no-one could see what was meant. “There are more of us gathered here tonight than in many years before. It took Grandmother Sherry a lot of digging to figure out who restarted this tradition that brought us all closer together this Christmas Eve. It was the shy Amanda.”
Grandpa and Grandma bowed their heads in thanksgiving. Everyone nodded and bowed their heads waiting for Amanda’s prayer, wondering what she would say.
A little bark. Then another followed by Grandpa’s laughter. “The shortest prayer ever given. Open your eyes. Your gift is impatient to greet you, Amanda.”
Amanda grabbed her new puppy, sired by Grandpa’s favorite pet, hugging her before the wiggling tail knocked over Grandpa’s toasting glass. Grandmother Sherry gave her the puppy’s leash and everyone dug into Christmas dinner with laughter spreading its own cheer among them all.