Wishing all of my readers a very Merry Christmas from my home to yours! May God bless you with a circle of love today and always.
It’s Christmas Eve.
Not a creature is stirring not even a mouse.
Those stockings are hung on the fireplace.
The brightly-lit and adorned Christmas tree waits quietly and patiently for gaily wrapped packages to appear beneath its boughs.
Freshly baked cookies perch on a special plate while a mug of milk sits nearby for Santa’s visit and, not to be forgotten, a carrot for Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer.
It’s Christmas Eve.
The house is ablaze with lights and Christmas finery everywhere.
A basket of happy Christmas tidings in the form of greeting cards from family and friends rests on an end table right next to the snowman decoration.
The sweet music of Christmas carols rings through the house as all gather back home.
And after a sumptuous dinner, Mama in her kerchief and Papa in his cap settle down for a well-deserved winter’s nap.
The house becomes silent while visions of sugarplums and fluffy white snow dance in grand-baby’s head.
It’s Christmas Eve.
But all of these things are not what Christmas truly means.
What is Christmas if we don’t remember the reason why we celebrate it?
What is Christmas? The answer is found wrapped in a manger. (Click on the following link.)
It’s Christmas Eve.
And at midnight, we welcome in the day named after our Savior.
THIS is Christmas.
“Christmas can be celebrated in the school room with pine trees, tinsel and reindeer, but there must be no mention of the man whose birthday is being celebrated. One wonders how a teacher would answer if a student asked why it was called Christmas.” ~Ronald Reagan
I have this life-long friend. She’s been in my closest circle of cherished ones from way back when.
We played Barbies and a myriad of other pretend games together as children; lounged by her folks’ swimming pool and dreamed of our weddings as teenagers; were actually in each other’s weddings as young adults, and laughed and cried together as we have matured into older adults.
If I could give her the best gift ever this Christmas, I would give her a do-over of this stressful year she’s experienced all wrapped up in gold, glittering paper and tied with an enormous red fluffy bow. Because as crazy as my year has been, hers has been a doozy.
Not only has she endured surgery, chemo, and radiation in her battle against that dreaded disease – cancer – this year, she also lost her father just a few weeks ago. Her husband is still recovering himself from some orthopedic surgery. Her grown children live hours away from her. And now, she’s hospitalized in excruciating pain from a complication that she never saw coming.
Sometimes this life on earth is just… Too. Much. And I cry for my friend because I do understand. Often we face the proverbial straw that breaks that camel’s back, the one that breaks our will, breaks our hearts, breaks just about everything in us. And we truly have to fight the hardest battle ever just to overcome our brokenness.
And on top of everything else, it’s Christmas. Ho. Ho. Ho. The most wonderful time of the year. Joy to the world.
Christmas, when there is so much to do in preparation. Cards to send. Gift shopping and wrapping to be done. Decorating. Baking. The list goes on….and on….and on.
And accomplishing those things are just a few of the holiday preparations that my friend truly enjoys. Christmas makes her happy. But not this year.
This year, she lies in a hospital, a good hour and a half away from her home, in pain and fretting over all the things she hasn’t been able to do. And yes, by her own words, having herself “a pity party.”
As her lifelong friend, I wish I could make it all better for her. I wish I could wave a magic wand and make her pain disappear but even the doctors can’t do that – they’ve cautioned her that recovery will take time.
I wish I could sprinkle magic fairy dust over her home, quite a distance from mine, and all her decorating and holiday preparations would be complete.
I wish I could say some magic words that would conjure up a Christmas elf to buy and wrap all the gifts she wants to give her family.
But I cannot. I am only human. I have no magic powers or instruments. I can’t even visit her in the hospital because the flu has infiltrated my home and I don’t want to be the bearer of bad viruses and compromise her already delicate immune system, so I must visit with her via cell phone.
So I do the only thing I can do. I listen. I let her vent her frustrations, her sadness, her disappointment, and yes, even her anger at this latest attack on her health. I tell her through my own tears that I’m sorry, that I hate that she has to go through this time.
I tell her not to fret, not to worry about what doesn’t get accomplished in time for Christmas. I encourage her to just concentrate on getting well and being able to go home soon.
But I don’t tell her the words she doesn’t want to hear, even though they are right there on the tip of my tongue.
“Don’t tell me things will get better,” she says. “I don’t want to hear that.”
So I close my mouth and swallow down those words, those words of platitude that we so often use, when honestly, we don’t really know what else to say.
And then I do the only other thing that comes to my mind, to my heart, to my soul. I ask her if I can pray with her right here, right now on this wireless device that connects us audibly even though our hearts are and always will be connected by friendship and love.
And she says yes.
And I hope and I pray that for just those few moments of prayer, Christmas – the one without all the preparation and fuss – flourished in her heart as it did mine.
“Christmas, my child, is love in action. Every time we love, every time we give, it’s Christmas.” ~ Dale Evans
That word reminds me of a scene from Fiddler on the Roof when the character Tevye says, “And how do we keep our balance? I can tell you in one word. Tradition.”
He continues by saying, “Because of our tradition, we’ve kept our balance for many, many years…You may ask, how did this tradition get started. I’ll tell you. I don’t know but it’s a tradition.”
Traditions. We all have them and they pop to the surface and call attention to themselves at Christmas time. If your family is anything like mine, there are just certain Christmas traditions you don’t change or mess with.
Some of those traditions were passed down through our family from one generation to another. Some are traditions Papa and I started ourselves and our grown children say it’s just not Christmas without them. You know, keeping the season balanced, I guess.
I’d like to share just a few of our Christmas traditions with you. Like Tevye though, I don’t know how some of them started.
Bird ornament. When I was a little girl, I remember that my mom always had some kind of bird ornament hanging on the Christmas tree. I don’t know why, but I recently discovered that such an ornament represents happiness and joy. I do know that if you look near the top of our tree, you will see a tiny little white bird trimmed in red with wings outstretched.
Hanging mistletoe. Again as a small child, I remember mistletoe, which is not native to our area, hanging in a doorway of our family home. I always giggled when someone kissed beneath it and as a teenage girl, I longed for someone to kiss under that greenery. You just might receive a little peck on the cheek at our house when you stand beneath the mistletoe in the hallway by our front door.
Candlelight service. One of my most favorite traditions is attending our church service at 11 p.m. Christmas Eve welcoming in the day we celebrate the birth of the Christ Child at midnight by candlelight while singing Silent Night.
Opening one gift. Our children actually started this tradition of choosing and opening one gift only on Christmas Eve. When we lived in other areas of the country away from our families, packages would arrive by mail and rest under the tree. Our kids had a hard time waiting until Christmas Day to open them, so we acquiesced to their pleading and allowed them to open just one the night before.
Christmas dinner menu. Certain foods must be served or my kids are disappointed. In addition to the baked, glazed ham and twice-baked potatoes, there must be one of two salads – either their favorite frog eye salad or a special molded, multi-layered rainbow colored jello salad that takes forever to make. Growing up, Christmas dinner just wasn’t complete without my mom’s 24-hour salad – a tart fruit salad with homemade mayonnaise. And I believe I was the only member of the family who didn’t like it. So that’s why our traditional salad is different.
Cookies. There must be cookies – lots of Christmas cookies. They can include old favorites like my mom’s tea cakes, peanut butter blossoms (Papa’s favorites), and M&M cookies, or new recipes but the tray must be full. And there MUST be sugar cookies in the shapes of stars, trees, Santa, snowmen, and bells, and they must be iced and decorated. This is a tradition that my kids loved growing up because they got to help cut out the shapes and decorate with scads of sugars and candies.
Candles in the windows. Even Papa inquires whether we’re placing candles in our windows for the Christmas season and we do, every year. Each window in the front of our home is lit up by one solitary electric candle. This tradition came from my family. When I was young, my mother placed red wreaths, made out of some cellophane type of material, in each of our windows. In the center of those wreaths was an electric candle. I’ve heard that a candle in the window in colonial times meant you were welcome in that place. For us, it also represents welcoming the Christ Child into our lives.
Advent calendar. Not just any old advent calendar marking the days until Christmas, but one that when you open each day’s door, you find a chocolate candy goodie waiting for you. There’s one in the kitchen right now that little one (our nearly two-year-old granddaughter) is enjoying. A tradition she’s learning about already.
Chocolate oranges. Somewhere along the line, we started the tradition of having dark chocolate oranges – a chocolate candy flavored and shaped like an orange that you break apart into ‘slices’ for the holiday. As a child, there was always an orange in my stocking and I think it stemmed from that. Just the other day, our middle daughter arrived home and said, “guess what I bought?” Yep, a chocolate orange to savor on Christmas. Another tradition we will probably be passing down to our granddaughter.
Christmas Eve sundaes. This one is an absolute must and our grown kids always ask to make sure I have all the ingredients for the special sundaes we eat only on Christmas Eve. Unlike some of our traditions, I know exactly where this one came from and how it started.
Back when Papa and Mama were young married folk with only one child, we lived in Oklahoma. Papa’s parents came to visit us for the holiday and we took them to Tulsa for a sight-seeing trip.
We visited a quaint little ice cream shop – I can’t remember the name of it but do remember the sundaes we ate there. And those sundaes were recreated into our family Christmas Eve sundaes which we serve every single year after dinner.
Our sundaes consist of scoops of green chocolate mint chip ice cream with Hershey’s chocolate syrup in between the scoops. Whipped cream tops them off garnished by a red maraschino cherry, red and green sugar sprinkles, and either a mini candy cane or peppermint stick. All served in a fancy glass as shown in my photo above.
Traditions. Good things with good memories.What are some of your favorite Christmas traditions?
“At the heart of every family tradition is a meaningful experience.” ~ unknown
Christmas songs from the radio filled the silence as we drove along enveloped in darkness only broken by headlights of sparse oncoming traffic on the four-lane highway and the occasional red brake lights of vehicles far ahead of us.
Last night on our way back home after accomplishing some Christmas shopping at a nearby mall, we were tired and ready to call it a night. Traveling along a blank stretch of highway from the more populated area to our rural place, there wasn’t much to see.
Cloud cover even obscured the brightness of the moon and its supporting cast of shining stars. Suddenly, ahead of us a burst of brilliance filled the dark firmament then left a trail of luminescence downward toward the ground.
We both exclaimed, “Did you see THAT?” at the same time.
A falling star. A shooting star. A radiant spot of brightness in an otherwise dull and mundane night. Despite the song emanating from the radio – that “just hear those sleigh bells jingling, ring-ting-tingling too” – my mind immediately launched into an old Perry Como song from the ‘50’s.
“Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket, never let it fade away.”
Back once more in our own reveries, I mulled over what I had just witnessed. Catch a falling star. Catch a falling star. Put it in your pocket, save it for a rainy day. The lyrics to that song kept playing in my mind drowning out the secular Christmas songs still coming from the car radio.
And I thought of that one star. That star unlike any other. The one that suddenly appeared in the sky over 2000 years ago to show that something remarkable had occurred. Something that would totally change our world. The birth of a baby boy named Jesus. That boy who became Savior, God in the flesh of mankind: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” ~ John 1:14-15 (NIV)
And I pondered how fitting that I should see this shooting star to remind me what Christmas is really about, celebrating the birth of my Savior – the Messiah, Emmanuel, the long-awaited One. The very One we sing about during this Advent season in “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”
O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
One shooting star blazing across the night sky reminded me of all of this.
Yes, I’ll catch a falling star and put it in my pocket to keep. And then every time I get caught up in the Christmas madness of shopping for gifts and decorating, of Christmas dinner menus and seasonal songs about everything but Jesus, of tinsel and mistletoe, of sleigh bells and chestnuts roasting on an open fire, I’ll pull that star out of my pocket to remind me of the true meaning of Christmas and I won’t let it fade away.
“Christmas in Bethlehem. The ancient dream: a cold, clear night made brilliant by a glorious star, the smell of incense, shepherds and wise men falling to their knees in adoration of the sweet baby, the incarnation of perfect love.” ~Lucinda Franks