This time of year, people who are already too busy, get busier preparing for Christmas. Somehow this negates the ONLY reason to celebrate Christmas, which is the Birth of Jesus Christ our Lord. I was thinking about some of my Christmases past and here are some memories I’d like to share:
As a child, Christmas time was very exciting at my home. Our mom would let us help her decorate our home, inside and out, the finale of which was putting the Nativity scene on the porch roof (probably why I own one today). If there was snow, my mom would get cups of the first snow fall to make icees, which consisted of snow, milk and sugar. Just about every day during the month of December my parents received Christmas gifts in the mail from friends. Our mailman’s knock would practically force my sisters and I to stop whatever we were doing and run to the front door to see what he had for the Jefferson family that day. These packages provided Christmas cookies, the flavors of some I’d never experienced and remember were not very tasty. Fruit of the month club crates, cheese in colorful foils, fancy Christmas candies and cakes in tins, and other delicacies that my sisters and I couldn’t wait to sample. Numerous species of fruit cakes in all shapes and sizes were always delivered, and I was the only one among my siblings who found them to be true delight and could therefore eat as much as I wanted. To this day, I still find them very delicious, contrary to popular opinion.
Christmas Eve was very exciting because we attended midnight mass (we were raised Catholic) as a family. We’d see all our friends from school and it felt very special and quite grown up to be attending church that late at night. And of course reality would set in once we were home as the infamous childhood tossing and turning set in for seemingly the rest of the night until Christmas morning.
Christmas meant having my dad, who worked six days a week, home for a few days relaxing and spending time with us kids, while keeping us out of my mom’s way in the kitchen. As far back as I can remember until my sisters and I were teenagers, my mom spent days cooking and preparing our family Christmas dinner all by herself, and it was always amazing to me how much food there was! She never seemed to tire out, and looking back now I understand this was her labor of love.
Christmas day brought A LOT of people to our house for dinner, with family and guests arriving from other cities and towns. ALL my favorite foods were plentiful and our home was warm and full of laughter and loud chatter all day long. It seemed that the joy of the season allowed family feuds and disagreements to be suspended somewhere in space so we could all enjoy the festivities and each other.
As a separated and then divorced mom, my memories of those seven Christmases are not fond, to say the least. I mostly remember barely making it through those Christmases, and wishing the holidays would hurry up and go away. I remember the frustration of not being able to afford a big tree and decorations for my apartment and one year trying to stir up excitement in my two little ones for a 3-foot, table-top tree, I purchased. I remember losing sleep and worrying about how to afford the toys they wanted. If there were programs for struggling families back then I didn’t know about them and probably would not have participated in any of them anyway. But my babies would always receive gifts from Godparents and family members; I was always grateful they had gifts to open on Christmas morning.
My first Christmas as a newlywed 23-years ago was filled with excitement, love, laughter, and a sense of belonging. Gifts were plentiful under our tree and we were hopeful and thankful for our new blended family. I remember the first Christmas after my son Hank died. Our beautiful baby girl was seven months old, and my husband and I both knew that she was our gift of hope and comfort from God himself. My emotions were all over the place that Christmas, and I guess rightly so, but each time I hugged my baby girl I knew in my heart that Christmas would one day be a time of celebration again. Although my husband and I were baby Christians then, we both were aware that our family Christmases from that point on would have to be seen through our newly saved lives that were painstakingly following Christ.
These days, Christmas means thanking my Father in Heaven for sending His son here as an infant to die for my sins. It makes my quest to live a holy and blameless life before God worth the trials it sometimes brings. The purpose of Christmas forces the world to admit, though we knowingly refuse to acknowledge, the existence of true forgiveness, grace and mercy.
In these politically charged times, I feel a compelling sense of merriment this time of year from the faces of most people when I give them my biggest smile and say “Merry Christmas!”, instead of happy holidays. Their faces actually light up and a look of relief is exposed for just a second as they eagerly say it too without worrying about how it’s received. And what’s all the fuss anyway? Christmas is and was forever meant to be a Merry Christ-day, right?
So, I hope this season fills your hearts with hope, and the promise of New Beginnings it represents. I pray that while you enjoy this time with family and friends, all of you experience the love of Christ as you celebrate the true meaning of this joy-filled season.
Lastly, because hearts are tender and receptive to giving and receiving more so during this season, this is a great time to share the Gospel with friends and loved ones who have not surrendered their lives to Christ.