Gather round, children; it is definition time.
Cousinpalooza (noun): a Christmas gathering of the Marme and Papa branch of Winckler, attended annually by the 3 offspring of Pater and Materfamilius and their families, who make up the 12 branches of cousinhood so essential to Cousinpalooza. A day overflowing with singing, game playing, candy exchanging, laughter and if given the opportunity, a pouring of love onto the great-grandparents we are still blessed to have in our lives; a bombastically fabulous time.
Perhaps every family thinks their Christmas celebrations are wonderful. Good on them, I say. The less they know about how wrong they are the better. Knowledge is not always power. So, maybe you should stop reading now, while you are ahead…
Or you could keep reading this story the way I am reading it: that God took a family that was theologically flaky and so saturated it with grace that now, every year, multiple generations gather to literally and loudly sing the praises of our King, because now, He is our King. We can do nothing but marvel. While I find my parents brilliant and dazzling, neither of those was responsible for the faith God planted in our hearts. My family underwent its own personal Reformation when I was about 13 years old — God did it all. He is still doing it all.
So the morning after Christmas, we gathered in the small kitchen and started Cousinpalooza with breakfast together, all eyes bleary with sleep, the smell of Papa’s coffee brewing and Marme’s famous cream cheese braid (the one thing I may be tempted to say it would not be Christmas without) warming in the oven filling the air. 2 trees — one with presents piled beneath it, the other decorated in the bubble lights that Marme loves, and that the grandkids love to watch. The 100 year old mounted deer head, Sparky, that Papa inherited and because he is the finest of grandfathers, covers in colored lights every Cousinpalooza. Because it makes us laugh, because small children race into the house and look for Sparky and see what amazing thing Grandpa has done this year — every year.
The day is spent catching up. The teenage girls talk crafts and books, there are always board games (from my siblings, anyway. My poor Quail have a dud mother when it comes to games, I’m afraid, and many a holiday I have been known to duck out into the cold, often with my dad, and go for a walk rather than get pulled into yet another long and complicated game), the little girls leap immediately into their shared imaginations and only poke their heads up for food, the younger boys play cars and do magic tricks and tell jokes. The older boys cannot really be called boys anymore; they are men, and fine men at that, who join the adults in the conversations that are sparked over Christian education, baptism, the world view involved in choosing where to live.
I love being part of a family that has real conversations. Hard words make soft hearts, soft words make hard hearts. We aren’t much for small talk; life is too short not to talk about things that matter.
We sing. We sing for hours throughout the day, heartily, in parts, with laughter. The day will come, and not long from now, when my nieces and nephews will completely take over the piano playing. Until that day comes, I am blessed to be the one pounding out the carols and psalms and hymns. It is a treat for me to have each family actively working on music in their homes and for the rest of us to be introduced to something new. I have learned some of my favorite songs that way. When my grandparents, on either side, are able to be there, I relish watching them listen, hearing them join. I wonder what it feels like, to be the root of this large family tree, this Jesus-loving bundle of joyful noises and faith-filled little people and teenagers who sing out because the Lord reigns, and He is their Lord.
There is no staring at cell phones at Cousinpalooza, for no other reason than that we have better things to do. If you have never seen a handful of teenagers spend the entire day interacting and laughing and listening with their peers and their elders, scooping up toddlers and helping younger kids into snow gear, never turning to zone out in front of a screen, then you are just going to have to take my word for it. It is the coolest thing.
My siblings and parents and I exchange homemade goodies, sometimes sweets, sometimes wine, sometimes homemade beef jerky from my brother-in-law who does magical things with meat. The cousins do a massive, sugar-coma-inducing cousin candy exchange. Every child buys and wraps candy for every cousin and it is hilarious watching them tear into it, but perhaps enjoy handing out their gifts nearly as much. We give sweets, because Sweetness Himself was born on Christmas Day. He is the Gift, free and dear and wonderful. Our gifts are feeble imitations, but imitations worth doing nonetheless, because He is delighted by our copying Him.
As I reread this, I am fully aware that I am not even coming close to describing one of my favorite days of the year. Perhaps words can never be enough for this one. But what I am struck with each year is that we are basking in blessings because God wrote a story, because He planted something that has gone on to produce fruit. The day to day work of disciplining kids, of homeschooling when it would be easier to hand our brood off to the state, of nurturing young and immature faiths (theirs, ours…), of caring for elderly parents, of loving well in our marriages is no mean task. It can feel like our feet are weighed down by cement, like we are slogging through the difficult work of a moment. And yet — look at what it is doing! Look at 12 cousins who all love the Lord, who have loyalty etched into their hearts. Look at marriages marked by grace, by decades of faithfulness, by self-sacrificial love right up to the last breath — the work of my grandparents and parents continues to shape us.
That means the work that is front of you today has purpose, eternal purpose. Right now counts forever.