Between over-decorating, over-eating and over-spending, the Christmas season can be overwhelming. Add the stress of creating a perfect Christmas dinner and its easy to feel cheerless and exhausted. It doesn’t have to be that way, as I learned the Christmas Neil was in the hospital.
It was only three months after his diagnosis, but deep down we all knew it was his last Christmas. Things weren’t going well with his chemo, his appetite and energy were fading, and the team of doctors on his case bounced him back and forth because no one wanted to face the Christmas elephant in the room. In typical Neil fashion, he was excited about the holiday even in his hospital bed. I had no intention of leaving him alone, so there were no decorations at home other than the few I set up before he went into the hospital. There was no opportunity for shopping except for the gifts I managed to purchase on-line. Wrapping and Christmas cards? Nope. Not even Christmas dinner.
For some reason, our three daughters never loved our traditional Christmas dinner. They always joked they’d rather have pizza. Charged with the task of bringing our Christmas feast to the hospital, they decided it was a perfect opportunity. They didn’t plan ahead, though, and after midnight Mass they realized all the pizza places would be closed for the holiday. Fortunately, the local Sheets gas station was open even at that late hour, and they sold pizza. Six pizzas to be exact, only four of which actually made it to the hospital the next day.
On Christmas morning our daughters woke up at home. They put us on speaker phone as they sat on the living room floor and opened the gifts that were under the tree. I could picture their festive faces as they teased and joked with each other, eating those first two pizza pies with delight. I imagined discarded Christmas wrap and bows littered all around them, the dog hoping for a crust or nibble while the cats tip-toed around the presents on the floor with wary eyes.
That afternoon, the girls brought the remaining four large pizzas to Neil’s hospital room, and his energy rallied. The pies weren’t hot; in fact, they were downright cold, but it didn’t matter. The crust was a perfect blend of chewy and crisp, the sauce had enough rosemary and basil to make the whole room smell like an Italian kitchen, and the vegetarian pie was a jolly red and green color. We laughed at the long strings of cheese that refused to let go every time someone pulled a piece from the box. We smiled each time one of us said, “OK, just one more piece.” By the time we finished eating, we were filled not just with pizza, but with true Christmas joy.
That was one of the best holiday dinners I ever had, and it started our new family tradition of Christmas pizza. We stock up on frozen pizzas of different brands and assorted toppings, and take turns putting them in the oven throughout the day. The pizza is easy and simple and it reminds us of that last Christmas with Neil. It also reminds us that Christmas isn’t about the meal, or the tree, or even the presents. Its about God and love and blessings. And it doesn’t have to be fancy or fussy to fill you with joy.
Please share with anyone you think need this reminder.
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