The Rule Ben­der

Southern Living (USA) - - Southern Living - BY ME LINDA GATES

When I was lit­tle, I could al­ways tell it was Christ­mas­time by the fact that I was sud­denly al­lowed to be ex­actly where I wasn’t usu­ally sup­posed to be.

At home in Dal­las, it was the liv­ing room— the fan­ci­est room in our lit­tle house and the one that was or­di­nar­ily off-lim­its to my sib­lings and me. But that was where my par­ents set up our Sears, Roe­buck and Co. Christ­mas tree ev­ery year, so it was also where my sis­ter and I spent long De­cem­ber hours ly­ing on the floor in the glow of the lights we’d helped string, soak­ing up the magic of it all.

The hol­i­day spirit was al­lowed into ev­ery room of my grand­par­ents’ house in New Or­leans too. Most of the year, my grand­mother— like a lot of other grand­moth­ers—was very par­tic­u­lar about who and what was al­lowed where. But dur­ing the hol­i­days, she even let us test out our new roller skates on her gleam­ing terrazzo floors, a mem­ory I know I will trea­sure for­ever. It was one more ex­am­ple of the les­son we learned both at home and at church: Christ­mas is a day that stands apart from all oth­ers.

Now that I have three chil­dren of my own, it’s clear to me that my par­ents and grand­par­ents knew ex­actly what they were do­ing. By al­low­ing us to break a few rules, they not only en­sured we had fun as a fam­ily, but they also taught us that some oc­ca­sions are so spe­cial that they de­serve to tran­scend the or­di­nary busi­ness of ev­ery­day life. That sa­cred time of year has al­ways felt full of pos­si­bil­ity to me—and the big­hearted way my fam­ily came to­gether around it is one rea­son why.

Christ­mas is still my fa­vorite hol­i­day, and I’ve tried to keep the tra­di­tions Bill and I grew up with alive for our own fam­ily. We’ve also started a few our­selves. Ev­ery year, we

SHE EVEN LET US TEST OUT OUR NEW ROLLER SKATES ON HER GLEAM­ING TERRAZZO FLOORS.

ob­serve some­thing I call “clos­ing the doors for Christ­mas.” As soon as our three kids are out of school, we pull back from our usual rou­tines and spend that time with fam­ily in­stead.

Some days be­hind those closed doors are care­fully planned, while oth­ers have no agenda at all. The im­por­tant thing is that we’re to­gether— and that the usual rules don’t ap­ply. When the kids were lit­tle and wanted to fill a hall closet with pack­ing peanuts to dive in, I chan­neled my grand­mother and cheered them on. (I just vac­u­umed them off on their way out so they wouldn’t track lit­tle bits of foam with them.) The fact that they still talk about that day is how I know we’ve suc­ceeded in mak­ing the hol­i­days a source of trea­sured mem­o­ries for them too.

Along the way, I’ve learned that when you close the doors for Christ­mas, you open the door to an­other di­men­sion of the hol­i­day. Turn­ing off dis­trac­tions al­lows you to be more present for the mo­ments that mat­ter—and to give this spe­cial oc­ca­sion the space in your heart it de­serves. It’s the per­fect way to cel­e­brate the end of a year and set your in­ten­tions for the next one.

And for me at least, it’s a chance to re­cap­ture the warmth of the twin­kling lights from my child­hood and see them cast their glow on the peo­ple I love most in the world. Even now that I un­der­stand how much ef­fort goes into cre­at­ing a hol­i­day like that, there are still mo­ments when it feels like magic.

Two-year-old Melinda (dressed in teal) with her sis­ter, Su­san, and par­ents, Elaine and Ray French, in New Or­leans

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