You, dear readers and friends, are important to me and I am thankful for each of you. My wish for you on this Christmas Day is that you have time to reflect on your blessings.
You, dear readers and friends, are important to me and I am thankful for each of you. My wish for you on this Christmas Day is that you have time to reflect on your blessings.
Since I was a child, I’ve always loved the classical music of The Nutcracker, written by Tchaikovsky. I mean who doesn’t love the idea of a sugar plum fairy dancing in your head while you listen to that beautiful music?
A long time ago, I started a small collection of different nutcrackers and they almost always adorn someplace in our home at Christmas time. I don’t really recall which one I acquired first, but over the years, I’ve added more. But before the collection became too large, I decided to stop and just keep it small.
Of course, The Nutcracker is a famous ballet, usually performed during the Christmas season and I do have a vague recall of having seen it televised when I was a child in the early 1960’s.
Later, as a married adult I attended a live performance of The Nutcracker danced by a ballet company in the city where we lived at the time. And as our children came along, I decided that one day we would take them to see the ballet as a holiday treat.
We managed to accomplish that, although our son, who was pretty young at the time, fell asleep and missed more than half of the performance. Still it’s a lovely memory in my mind: the five of us all dressed up in Christmas finery traveling into the city to enjoy a live ballet with a Christmas story line.
Our oldest granddaughter seems to share my fascination with nutcrackers. We’ve read the story to her and she remembered that Nana has a set of nutcrackers that decorate the top of the piano at Christmas time.
While Papa and I were hauling out the holly to set our house ablaze with lights and decorations, Little One was here as it was a baby-sitting day.
“Nana, can I help you get the nutcrackers out?” she asked. Well, I’m a grandmother, a doting one, and even though I probably never allowed my own children at her age to help with the nutcrackers in fear that they would break one, of course, I said, “Sure!”
I found the plastic storage bin where the nutcrackers were located, opened it, and one by one, Little One helped me release them from their protective layers of tissue and bubble wrap. Something needed my attention in the kitchen, so I left our granddaughter in the dining room with the decorations.
Re-entering later, I found myself amused that she had lined them all up mostly by height and was enjoying them. So I left again to do something else.
Soon, I heard a little bit of thumping. I called to her and asked if she was alright. She assured me she was. A few minutes afterward, she sought me and asked me to come into the living room. I was shocked at what I found.
My four-year-old grandchild has an eye for decorating! She had crawled up onto the piano bench and placed the nutcrackers, one by one, in a very nice fashion. She was so proud of her accomplishment that she dragged her mama, when she got back from working, in to see her display.
We all chuckled when she announced that she did it all by herself and “I didn’t even get distracted.”
Those nutcrackers gave me yet another Christmas memory to cherish. And some day, when she’s just a tad older so she won’t fall asleep, this Nana and Papa will take our granddaughter, dressed in her Christmas finery, to see The Nutcracker ballet in person.
And that will be yet another Christmas memory for her and me, I hope.
“The nutcracker sits under the holiday tree, a guardian of childhood stories. Feed him walnuts and he will crack open a tale.” ~ Vera Nazarian
This beautiful stained glass window portrays the story of the birth of Jesus Christ from one visit to another.
The first visit was from an angel telling the virgin Mary she would experience a miraculous birth, the birth of a Savior. The last visit was a couple of years later when Wise Men followed a new and bright star in the sky to visit the Christ Child bringing him gifts.
If you don’t know this amazing story, I hope you can find a Bible to read the narrative. Or you can just search the internet for one of the Biblical accounts. Look up “Luke 1:26 through Luke 2:30.”
My hope is that if you’ve never heard about Jesus, who He is, how He was born, and for what purpose, you will understand the meaning of this photo after you’ve read or heard that passage of Scripture. It’s why we, who are Christians, celebrate this holiday named Christmas.
For those of you who know the Nativity Story, may you pause in all your busyness to remember what this season is truly intended for – to commemorate the birth of a Savior, whose name is Jesus Christ, Son of God (His divinity) yet Son of Man (His humanity).
“Who can add to Christmas? The perfect motive is that God so loved the world. The perfect gift is that He gave His only Son. The only requirement is to believe in Him. The reward of faith is that you shall have everlasting life.” ~ Corrie Ten Boom
O Christmas tree, o Christmas tree, how lovely is your…hodgepodge.
Some folks have beautifully decorated themed Christmas trees. This tree is all decked in white and is covered in angels. Or that tree sports multi-colored lights with all Santa ornaments on it. Or whatever floats your boat – it could be even a nautical or beach themed tree.
But not here at Mama’s Empty Nest. Nope, our tree doesn’t have a theme unless you consider it an eclectic one, a mishmash that doesn’t seem to have any rhyme or reason.
Our tree is adorned with ornaments from years ago, from places we’ve visited over our 40-some years of marriage, from gifts we’ve been given, to ornaments just because I liked the look of them.
It’s a miscellaneous assortment of this and that. But I like it because, for the most part, each ornament hanging on our evergreen holds a memory.
Preparing for our family Christmas this year when the nest will be full, I took a moment to stop my frantic pace of decorating and completing my mile-long list of things to do before Christmas to sit and admire our hodgepodge tree. While doing so, I caught a glimpse of an ornament that reminded me of one Christmas season many years ago.
Back in the day when this empty nest mama was a busy mama of school-aged children, I devoted a lot of time volunteering at their public schools. I was room mother (we planned the class parties) for all three of my kids.
I volunteered in their classrooms every week helping students with reading or catching up on their work. I slaved away at numerous school fundraisers. And I served a few years as PTA (Parent Teacher Association) President and Vice-President.
After my last stint as PTA President, I decided to take a break from all of that activity. Since we worked so closely together, the other PTA mom officers became some very good friends. They didn’t believe me when I said I was hanging up my PTA hat and asked me what I would do with my time instead. I promptly answered, “I’ll have tea parties!”
And so I did. That Christmas, I held a tea party for those same friends in my home. The menu included tiny quiches, petite tea sandwiches, an assortment of small cookies, and oranges cut in half, scooped out, and filled with a berry fruit salad.
I brewed holiday flavors of hot tea – candy cane lane and sugar plum spice – and served them in Christmas tea pots.
Prior to the party, I decorated our dining room table with a red tablecloth, a plaid red and green table runner down the center, and a beautiful live greenery centerpiece with candles.
At each place setting, I used my Christmas china plates and tea cups along with red and green plaid cloth napkins, bedecked with lacy napkin rings I had fashioned with tiny pine cones and ribbon.
I bought tiny clay pots, spray painted the outside of them gold, tied plaid ribbons around them, filled them with red and green M&M candies, and placed a chocolate molded candy Christmas tree on a lollipop stick in each of them so they looked like Victorian topiaries. Those were the favors and they added a nice touch to the décor.
I was pleased with the results of my plans and I wish I had thought to take a photo of my Christmas tea party, but alas, no such picture exists. And there was no such thing as Pinterest back then to give me ideas.
All of this came back to my mind from that memory bank in my brain when I noticed the adorable little ornament resembling a tea bag with two little mice enjoying a cup of tea. One of my friends, a guest at my Christmas tea party that day so long ago, gifted me that little treasure.
When I gaze at it, I remember that lovely time with wonderful friends. It truly makes a delightful Christmas memory. Who would have thought my tree would remind me of a long ago tea party?
That’s why I like my hodgepodge Christmas tree.
“Recipe for a tea party: one cup of love, two pots of tea, and a handful of friends to make the moments sweet.” ~ unknown
Perhaps folks just don’t continue this Christmas tradition anymore.
Because we have so many other ways of sending our thoughts and well wishes to others in today’s world thanks to email, text messaging, and social media, I wonder how many people still send Christmas greeting cards.
You know, the good old fashioned cards that you purchase in a box of 20 or 25 complete with a holiday photo on the front and a Merry Christmas greeting inside. Envelopes are furnished along with the cards, but you must sign them personally or have them imprinted.
If you’re anything like I am, some of the folks on your list are far-away friends so I also write a newsy Christmas letter to include with the card.
And then you either hand-address the envelopes or run off address labels on your home printer, seal the envelopes, stick adhesive postage stamps on the front, and deliver them to a nearby mailbox for a postal worker to send them on their merry way.
It sounds like a lot of work, but when you consider the fact that you may be gladdening some one’s heart when they see your card in their home mailbox or that they smile and think of you when they notice your signature, that makes all the work totally worth the time and effort.
And I don’t know about you but I not only love to send Christmas greetings but receive them as well. It’s one of those things that just makes my heart happy.
Every year, I accomplish this task right after Thanksgiving. I usually purchase my cards at a discount the year before, so they are stashed away ready for use.
Then I pull out my well-used, worn and torn, little hard back book (entitled My Christmas List) I’ve kept since the early days of Papa’s and my marriage to keep track of people we send cards to and those we receive from as well.
But before I do that, I hand write on a separate piece of paper a list of folks to send cards to that year. And I’ve noticed in the last few years that my card list keeps getting shorter.
Because we’ve lived in different areas of the country over our married life, we’ve managed to keep in contact with lots of friends, old neighbors, and church friends from all of those places.
At one time, our Christmas card list numbered almost to 100. But things have changed. Life goes on and then it doesn’t. What do I mean by that? Every year it seems, I must shorten my list not because I want to but because someone on the list is now deceased.
It saddens me to see the number of people who are no longer here on this earth to celebrate Christmas, for us to communicate with at this special time of year. And it makes me sadder still to cross out their names in my little red and white book with Santa’s picture on the front.
And that got me to thinking about folks even older than I am. Their lists are getting shorter every year as well because their family members and long-time friends are now gone. And you know what that means? They are probably not receiving very many greeting cards either.
And chances are they don’t email, text, or use social media.
I think about the loneliness they might be experiencing, especially if their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren don’t live near them. How alone they must feel if most of their loved ones and friends are among the dearly departed.
And then I think how much it would lift their spirits and instill a little joy in their hearts to receive a Christmas greeting in the mail. A real honest-to-goodness card with a cheerful note and a personal signature. How they may smile to know that someone somewhere is thinking about them and cares.
But why stop there? What about our members of the military stationed far away from their families during this holiday season? Or the folks in nursing homes or hospitals? Or even the cranky old fellow who lives alone across the street?
Every one of those human beings is worth so much more than just the cost of a card and a stamp.
Okay, I know I sound like a Hallmark commercial, but honestly, perhaps I need to re-think my card list and add some more names to it. Perhaps you too need to re-think sending Christmas cards this year.
A Christmas card and a postage stamp could make a big difference in the life of someone.
“Sending Christmas cards is a good way to let your friends and family know that you think they’re worth the price of a stamp.” ~ Melanie White
A trip to a nearby farm to choose a real Christmas tree for daughter and granddaughter also provided a fun visit to see Santa Claus. And an opportunity to write him a Christmas letter.
Our little one truly has been very good this year so I imagine those special wishes she whispered to Santa just might be fulfilled.
“Dear Santa, I hope you and your elves been very busy, because I’ve been very good.” ~ unknown
As one season ends, another begins. It’s that way in nature and it’s that way in life as well. Autumn is past and I must say farewell to it as we enter into winter. I must also say farewell to my recent postings about our trip to Michigan.
As I wind up this series while preparing for and anticipating Christmas, I find it serendipitous that my last post highlights a well-known Christmas song, Silent Night.
You probably know the one: Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright…
That beloved hymn, originally written in German and titled “Stille Nacht,” was composed by Franz Gruber and Joseph Mohr in Austria in 1818. Mohr, a pastor in Oberndorf bei Salzburg had written a poem and was hopeful that his friend Gruber, the church choir master and organist, could set the words to music for Christmas Eve’s midnight mass.
It is absolutely amazing that this beautiful song was composed in just a few hours and first sung on that same Christmas Eve. However, because of a flood, the church’s organ had been damaged and could not be used.
So instead, Gruber composed the music to be accompanied by guitar. The church, which had its foundation damaged in the flood, was later demolished and when a new church was built, a small memorial chapel was also constructed, the Silent Night Chapel.
Many decades later in 1945, a man named Wally Bronner opened a CHRISTmas Wonderland store in Frankenmuth, Michigan. As his store succeeded and grew, Bronner began importing Christmas ornaments and on a trip to Europe, he visited the Silent Night Chapel in Oberndorf, Austria.
An idea became reality for the Christmas store owner. He had reserved space on his many acres site where his store is located for something to thank God for blessing his business. Bronner acquired permission from authorities to build a replica of Austria’s Silent Night Chapel.
Built and dedicated in 1992, Bronner’s memorial chapel stands 56-feet tall and is open for visitors every day during store hours; there is no admission charge to enter the chapel. Inside you may view a lovely altar behind glass and the words to Silent Night are portrayed all around the chapel walls in many different languages.
Click here to see a video of Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland’s Silent Night Memorial Chapel.
It’s a tranquil spot to sit and meditate on the lyrics as the song, both vocal and instrumental versions, plays quietly in the background. Another interesting fact is that every Christmas Eve, carolers gather inside the chapel to sing Silent Night, first in German and then in English.
We found the chapel to be an inspiring place to visit and it definitely reminded us of the real reason why we celebrate Christmas, the purpose for setting aside this time to recall what happened on one silent night over 2000 years ago in a little town called Bethlehem.
That silent night became the most miraculous silent night of all time, when the Messiah, the Son of God, was born as a “holy infant so tender and mild” and was named Jesus.
“Bethlehem was just the beginning. I call Jesus Christ’s next appearance, Bethlehem, Act 2. No silent night this time, however. The skies will open, trumpets will blast, and a new kingdom will begin.” ~ Max Lucado
That calendar on my wall tells me it’s December already. I know it sounds so very trite, but honestly, where DID the year 2019 go?
Regardless of my incredulousness at it being the last month of the year, that calendar also shows me there are only 19 days until Christmas. Yikes! This empty nest Mama needs to get her Christmas preparations jump-started.
The empty nest will be filled to the brim with three grown up offspring, their spouses, three adorable grandchildren, and a grand-doggy for several days over the Christmas holiday. And my heart is so very happy about that!
But there is MUCH to do – hauling out the holly, illuminating the outside of our country home, decking out the halls, adorning the Christmas tree, menu planning for meals (carefully due to one family member with celiac disease who must eat gluten-free), grocery shopping, gift wrapping, and devising Christmas fun activities for the family to enjoy.
Thankfully, three items are already checked off my list – the Christmas cards have been signed, sealed, and are in the mail to be delivered, gifts have been purchased, and Papa handled the majority of the outside decorations.
Yet Mama’s plate is full of plans to make our home this year a Christmas wonderland, especially for the grandchildren.
But while I embrace this blessed season, I still have a couple more stories and pictures to share about our autumn trip to Michigan. Appropriately, the subject is Christmas, “the most wonderful time of the year.”
When we stopped at the quaint town of Frankenmuth, MI, our goal was to visit the world’s largest Christmas store, Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland, which has been in business since 1945.
And what a wonderland it truly is! The store is open 361 days a year and is gigantic (they claim it’s the size of one and a half football fields!) and filled with everything you can imagine that has to do with the Christmas holiday.
I’ve shopped in many Christmas shops, but I’ve never been anywhere that comes close to Bronner’s with 50,000 decorations and gifts in 15 store sections.
The half-mile lane leading into this huge store is lined with thousands of lights and outdoor Christmas displays everywhere you look. We arrived in the morning as the store opened, so I can only imagine what a spectacular sight it would be to view the lights at night (dusk until midnight).
Onsite adjacent to the Christmas store is the Silent Night Chapel, a replica of the original chapel in Austria where, on Christmas Eve in 1818, the well-known Christmas hymn Silent Night was first sung. (I’ll highlight that in an upcoming post.)
Papa and I spent at least three hours just browsing, being amazed, and purchasing some gifts and special ornaments to add to our Christmas tree.
Tree ornaments are grouped by categories in some sections, by colors in other areas, and by country in yet others. And there is a large area with ornaments that can be personalized (free while you wait).
Looking for Christmas jewelry? It’s there. Nativity sets? For certain. Nutcrackers? They’ve got them. Advent calendars, wreaths, Christmas trees, stockings, garlands, ribbon, cards, angels, lighted village sets, books, linens, snow globes, figurines, lights and displays, Santa suits….you name it, Bronner’s has it.
It’s a Christmas treasure trove and certainly puts shoppers in a merry spirit for the season no matter what time of year you visit.
Even though I have a checklist a mile long to prepare for Christmas with my family, I pause for a moment to remember our visit to that Christmas store, admire the ornaments we purchased there, and smile as we enter into the “hap-happiest season of all.”
“Perhaps the best Yuletide decoration is being wreathed in smiles.” ~E. C. McKenzie
It’s the day after Christmas, but I’m not ready to let go yet. So these pictures show you just a few sights I captured with my camera this season.
It’s the day after Christmas, but I’m not ready to let go yet. And who says we must? We should keep thoughts of Christmas in our hearts all year long.
Thoughts of kindness.
Thoughts of sharing.
Thoughts of goodwill towards men.
Thoughts of love.
Thoughts of hope.
Thoughts of peace.
And thoughts of the King of kings – Jesus. Because even though we just celebrated His birthday, He gave us the ultimate gift when He died on the cross for us. His gift of salvation lasts forever and ever and ever. Hallelujah!
“It is Christmas in the heart that puts Christmas in the air.” ~ W.T. Ellis