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 Stephen Kokx / LifeSiteNews

(LifeSiteNews) — When I was growing up, I was fortunate – blessed really – to live on the same street as my grandma. My grandma’s sister (my great-aunt) also lived with her. Their sister, my other great-aunt, had a house right next door to us. Suffice it to say, it was a “family affair” on good old Richards Avenue Southwest!

When December rolled around, my mom’s family gathered at my grandma’s house on Christmas Eve. Being that my mom was one of seven children, it didn’t take long before the house was bursting at the seams. Oftentimes, upwards to 45 people descended on her cramped, but quaint, two-story rustic bungalow.

The most memorable part about those get-togethers (aside from the delicious Polish kielbasa and pierogies) was when Santa arrived.

As we all know, the real St. Nick was out delivering presents to children across the world, so an uncle – or one of my cousins – would put on a red suit and hand out gifts in his place. I was asked to do this time-honored tradition when I was in my early 20s.

My cousins and I always tried to get a sneak peek of Santa’s arrival. We hid on the front porch in order to catch a glimpse of Rudolph and the rest of his reindeer land his sleigh. My great-aunt, who is now deceased, would tell us to look at the park just north of my grandma’s house to see that happen. Of course, we never did. Santa was getting ready (in more ways than one) down the road at my parent’s house to the south. My great-aunt always knew how to have fun with us.

When Santa arrived, we sang songs, broke out the jingle bells, and had a jolly good time, as Polish Catholics are wont to do. We also shared oplatki, placed a statue of baby Jesus in His manger, and watched “A Christmas Story” on TV. Those memories are greatly cherished by me and every other member of our large, extended family.

My grandma’s house was more than just a destination spot for Christmas. It was the hub for every holiday of the year – Easter, Thanksgiving, you name it.

She also had a pool, which meant that my summers were spent riding bikes in the morning, playing basketball and touch football in the afternoon, and “taking a dip” as the sun began to set. Can an American boy have a more idyllic childhood?

My grandma’s house was open to all the neighborhood kids. She seemed to have a never-ending supply of popsicles and ice cream to hand out. She also had hundreds of Catholic statues, paintings, and books. She and my great-aunt went to the Holy Land twice in the 70s and 80s. They were devout in their faith and served as the rocks on which our family was built.

My grandma’s house, which was built nearly 100 years ago, was sold last month. Sadly, it had to be. She developed some memory issues during COVID that continued to get worse in recent years. She would walk to my parents’ house every evening, unannounced, basically making my mom her de facto caretaker, which was not easy on her.

Moreover, my great aunt who lived next door to us passed away in December 2016. My other great aunt, the one who lived with my grandma, died in July 2021, meaning that my grandma was basically on her own, resulting in her being unable to take care of herself. Her husband died in 1978 from a heart attack on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, December 12, while driving home after a day of work as a tiler.

My grandma lives in a nursing home now. Although she has largely forgotten about her house, no one in our family has. Nor will we for the rest of our lives.

Many people say that a meal prepared by your mom or grandma tastes better than an expensive dinner at a restaurant. The secret ingredient, of course, is love. The same could be said for my grandma’s house. Despite it being old, sometimes drafty, and not the nicest house in the neighborhood, what happened inside those walls – those joy-filled, one-of-a kind Christmas celebrations – made it the best home you could want to be at.

Christmas won’t be the same for me, or any of my relatives, now that we don’t have my grandma’s house to visit anymore. But that’s how life is. Our true home is heaven. We have to be detached from everything this world offers us, even the good things. God alone is our true source of happiness. We have to want to be with Him more than anything else during this brief life.

It was a blessing beyond compare that God allowed me to grow up on the same street that my grandma lived on. I am thankful my parents moved there when I was a young boy. At the same time, my grandma’s house, and all the memories it gave me, are what I am most thankful for on this particular Christmas.

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Stephen Kokx is a journalist for LifeSiteNews. A former community college instructor, Stephen has written and spoken extensively about Catholic social teaching, politics, and spirituality. He previously worked for the Archdiocese of Chicago under the late Francis Cardinal George. His essays have appeared in a variety of outlets, including Catholic Family News and He is the author of St. Alphonsus for the 21st Century: A Handbook for Holiness.