Christmas Memories

I will be alone this Christmas ~ my children were here earlier in the year from all over the country for my 90th birthday, and I didn’t want them to have the expense of coming again so soon.

I won’t be doing much for myself. The artificial tree is stored on the third floor with all the decorations, and there is no way I can manhandle it all down two flights of stairs. So, except for a wreath on the front door, decorations are out. Perhaps I will go up and retrieve a little “Charlie Brown “ tree that someone gave me some years ago, with one little decoration hanging at the top of a very tired-looking tree, and with its base wrapped in what looks like Linus’s blanket. It makes me laugh, and it is enough.

I am working my way up to trying to make some pumpkin bread and shortbread cookies to celebrate. I used to bake many kinds of cookies and treats. Now my back is too arthritic, and the idea of standing and mixing stiff batters and whisking trays of cookies in and out of the oven is overwhelming. I may have to settle for memories.

The idea of shopping, even via the internet, and then wrapping all the presents, plus hand-writing many cards and addressing the envelopes, and getting everything to the post office in time for Christmas delivery is just too much. So much easier to email one letter to all my friends, and send gift cards from Amazon to everyone. I can handle that…

So, in deference to my age and physical restrictions, I have simplified and shortened and taken much of the personal element out of my Christmas. It isn’t the same, but it will have to do… sigh.

I have such beautiful memories of Christmas when the children were actually children and not within a few years of retirement. Each year we would take them to a Christmas store after Thanksgiving and they would each pick out one new ornament for the tree. Then would come the choosing, bringing home, and decorating the tree about a week before Christmas. Next, we would decorate the rest of the house, with the beautifully detailed creche being the centerpiece: the baby Jesus and His mother, and Joseph and the shepherds and wise men all in their places ~ but somehow a cow always mysteriously ended up in the hayloft by Christmas Eve. There was all the fun and mystery of Santa, with cookies left for him and eaten by somebody, and piles of presents under the tree. The wonder and excitement on the children’s faces after they are allowed to come downstairs on Christmas morning. The excited tearing off of the wrappings (why did I bother?) and the squeals of delight for toys and books and games and the silence after getting new socks or other articles of clothing. The telephone ringing with calls from other family, and always carols and other Christmas music in the background.

There was the rush and challenge of the big Christmas dinner with turkey and dressing and as much gravy as could be made from the hit-and-miss amounts of turkey drippings, all the other sides, and pies for dessert. The table would be overflowing with food and people would be so busy eating that there was little conversation until time for the pies. Everyone would lean back and groan, and usually the pie would be held back for a couple of hours because no one could eat another bite.

The night before there would have been the midnight Christmas Eve service at church. The lovely old church would be decorated in understated elegance, with simple swags of greens and holly berries and ribbon decorating the choir balcony and the ends of the pews, and candles in hurricane glass sitting on the wide window ledges. The church would be dimly lit as the choir would process in, and there would be the reading of the passage in Luke’s Gospel of the birth of the Christ, the Christmas message, the lovely carols and special Christmas music, the smell of pine adding to the unique beauty of the service. At the end, we would sing the final carol, the darkness of the sanctuary lit only by the individual candles we all held. We would disperse wishing each other “Merry Christmas”, and dads would carry the younger children to the cars. When we arrived home most of the children would be almost asleep and have to be carried up to bed, asking drowsily if Santa had come while we were out.

It was a frantic time, lasting weeks in preparation. Traditions changed as the children grew up. Santa‘s magic was replaced by more adult gifts, and school activities and concerts. There were parties with friends. There were all the beloved rituals each family develops over time. I would be fully involved. Sometimes I thought it would be better if I hadn’t developed so many traditions because I had made it hard on myself ~ all the special things only available at Christmas that required my running around to various specialty shops for a certain kind of candy or cheese or items for the stockings. Remember to have plenty of dried wood for the fireplace. Electric candles for all the front windows. A wreath of fresh greens for the front door. It all had to be special; all had to be memorable. I tried to make it magical for the children (and usually ended up an exhausted wreck). Yet, this was all part of Christmas. Sometimes I tried to eliminate one or two details, but everyone complained if one single thing was changed. I had brought it on myself, and because it was Christmas, I didn’t really care.

How did a simple celebration of the birth of the Lord turn into such a circus?  Oh, yes ~ there was at least one church service, and the creche, and we always read the Luke passage aloud to the family so that we remembered what it was we were celebrating. Yet, looking back I wish we had been less attuned to the celebrations cherished by the world and more focused on the incredible implications of the birth of Christ. I suppose old age is a time when you MUST simplify and get down to the essentials because there is no energy for extraneous things ~ but perhaps it is also a time for belated wisdom.

I am stunned now at the realization of what it meant that God, the Creator, the great I AM, could love us so much that He would send the gift of His Son to earth as a helpless baby, and that He would take upon Himself the sin of the world and accept accountability for me. He knows mankind. He knows the depth of our selfishness, of our greed, of our unwillingness to obey Him and listen for His voice in the making of our decisions. He knows our stubborn, self-involved egos and all the rest of the unpleasant and willful aspects of the human personality. Yet, He continues to love us and wants fellowship with us.

 He came as a poor, peasant baby ~ not in might and power, but as a humble servant. He demonstrated by His life as a man what He had created us to be. He was fully holy and fully love. He looked on all of us with compassion and the pity of a father for an immature child. “Learn of me”, He said. “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father”, He said. “Love one another, and serve one another.” Why do we not, even yet, do as He asked? Many whom He has called do try. We have begun schools, orphanages, and hospitals over the centuries, in His name. We try to care for our neighbors and family. Even those who do not believe in Christ have recognized the value of the Godly wisdom found in both the Old and New Testaments. The principles of the Ten Commandments are found, in one form or another, in all the major religions of the world. They are the basis for most of our laws. Justice. Honor. Integrity. Do not steal, or murder or envy. Service. Love God and obey Him. We know all these things somewhere in our DNA ~ but most choose not to attribute them to God but to themselves. They make the assumption that they have come to wisdom without Him. It is the oldest sin ~ pride ~ rearing its ugly head from the time of the earliest man until today. Yet, knowing all these things, Christ came.

I pray that this year, when things are looking grim for a lot of people all over the earth, we will stop and think about these things, and give thanks for the mercy and grace of God in the Incarnation. Let us look past the sweet baby Jesus asleep on the hay, and think about the real reason He came: the Cross where He suffered and died and was separated from the Father in those dark hours ~ all so that we might be reconciled to the Father. Praise Him.

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