This different Christmas season

The last calendar page of the year turned over into December, and Christmas is coming. Most of us are not sorry to see this year end and will be happy to see 2020 in the rear view window.

But even though this year has been challenging and the pandemic is still hanging around, Christmas is coming and we will celebrate this holiday, although how we celebrate will be different this year.

Oh, some things are still the same – our house is festooned with bright lights outside. Garland hangs from the front porch railings. Wreaths garnish the windows. And a pine tree stands adorned with festive lights and ornaments with so many memories attached to them.

The halls are decked, maybe not quite as elaborately as before. Christmas cards addressed, stamped, and in the mailbox. Presents are bought, gift-wrapped, and shipped on their way to loved ones who won’t be able to join our Christmas celebration homecoming because of pandemic travel restrictions.

This year, Christmas is definitely different and my mind and heart tell me to keep it simple. Focus on the true meaning of why we celebrate this holiday.

Pondering over thoughts of a simplistic holiday prompts memories to break the surface of my 60+ years-deep well of Christmas memories. Back when this holiday truly was simple. Indulge me please as I travel back to those uncomplicated times – at least they were in my mind’s eye.

In the 1950’s and 60’s, I was a youngster eagerly awaiting the most exciting day of the year – Christmas. My memories usher me back to a small, two-bedroom home where I lived with my parents and two older sisters. What I remember most is being with my family, including my maternal grandparents, to celebrate Christmas and the love we shared for one another.

Our house wasn’t lavishly decorated with holiday trimmings back then. Dad strung some multi-colored lights – the old kind with large glass bulbs – around the front porch. Small twinkle lights were not even a thing yet.

My mother placed red cellophane wreaths sporting one solitary electric candle in the windows. No fancy greenery adorned with baubles graced the fireplace mantle. A plain paper banner spelling the words “Merry Christmas” was taped to the living room wall. Our house wouldn’t have been featured in a color spread of “House Beautiful” or been pictured on Pinterest, that’s for certain.

My father would stop after work to obtain a fragrant but bushy pine tree for us to decorate. Sometimes, he didn’t bring that Scotch pine home until Christmas Eve and then we spent the evening hanging glass bulb lights, fragile glass ornaments, and tons of silvery, shiny, metallic icicles on it.  

Occasionally, we might hear carolers outside serenading us with Christmas songs, the kind my sisters played on our upright piano.  The Christmas season revolved around church activities – singing those age-old Christmas hymns, participating in and memorizing my lines for the children’s Sunday School program performed for our church congregation, and remembering the real reason for the season – our Savior’s birth.

In preparation, Mom baked a few cookies but not the massive amounts that folks do now. She did make melt-in-your mouth sweets like fudge, divinity, and something called sea foam and when we visited my grandparents, ribbon hard candy looked festive in the candy dish. Someone always opened a five-pound box of Brach’s assorted chocolates and some chocolate covered cherries too.

Nuts still in their shells – pecans, walnuts, Brazil nuts, pistachios, almonds – were also considered a special treat at Christmas time along with a juicy orange placed in my stocking with some peppermint flavored candy canes and gold foil covered chocolate coins. My stocking wasn’t filled with gifts, just modest treats to eat, which I thought were the best thing ever.

In the days leading up to Christmas, I watched a few holiday special shows and Suzy Snowflake on our black and white television which was encased in a wooden console.  We shopped for Christmas gifts in our hometown’s downtown stores and it seemed magical hustling from shop to shop in the chilly air with lots of people on the sidewalks. An even more exciting thrill was standing in line on the second floor of the Montgomery Ward store to see Santa Claus and tell him what my wishes were for Christmas.

On Christmas Eve, Santa came to our house after I went to bed and I would lie there in my darkened bedroom, way too excited to sleep, especially because we had an unusual tradition. Instead of waiting for Christmas morning to open those one or two gifts Santa brought, my mother would enter the bedroom I shared with my two sisters to tell me Santa had just visited.  I would pretend to be asleep, “wake up,” and scurry out of bed, down the hall, and be amazed by presents under our tree.

One particular Christmas Eve stands out in my memory. I don’t remember how old I was, but I think I was four or five.  Of course, I couldn’t fall asleep while I wondered what gifts Santa would leave for me. Lying in my bed on that dark winter night, I heard an unusual sound outside my house.

Jingle bells! The tinkling of jingle bells over and over again! Could it be? Was I hearing Santa’s arrival? Was he really here? Sure enough, shortly afterward, Mom “woke me up” by informing me that there was “someone in the living room who wants to see you!”

My eyes must have widened in disbelief when I saw Santa Claus standing in our living room with a red sack! In person! I think he asked me if I’d been a good girl all year and then he opened his sack and pulled out gifts for me. And with a “ho, ho, ho,” he waved goodbye and walked out our front door to his waiting sleigh and reindeer, I assumed.

But I was too eager to open my presents to look outside for verification. However, I did make one observation when I wondered out loud why Santa wore black boots at Montgomery Ward and this time brown ones were on his feet.

Many years later when that visit was just a pleasant Christmas memory, I learned who Santa actually was that year – our older neighbor, Mabel in a Santa costume complete with snowy white beard. She always sent me birthday cards and provided holiday treats for me. I called her “my neighbor Maw Bul.” Even after we moved to a different neighborhood, Maw Bul continued to send me cards signed, “Your far-away neighbor, Mabel.”

What Mabel did that one Christmas Eve and on other occasions as well was make a child feel special and loved and give the gift of a precious Christmas memory. I think Mabel embodied the Christmas spirit – thinking of others, giving joy to someone, providing a treasured moment to remember. And those moments, just like my pleasant Christmas memories of the past, weren’t over the top productions, outlandishly decorated, or expensive.

They were just simple and sweet.

“Santa Claus is anyone who loves another and seeks to make them happy; who gives himself by thought or word or deed in every gift that he bestows.” ~Edwin Osgood Grover

So this different Christmas season, I’m hoping to BE different. I want to bring a bit of joy to others even if I can’t do so face-to-face in person, because really, isn’t that the spirit of Christmas? Giving to others because God, the Father, gave us the most amazing gift, His Son.

Celebrating Christmas isn’t about fancy, Pinterest-perfect decorations, dazzling light displays, amazing food, holiday revelry and parties, or extravagant gifts. It’s about giving the gift of caring.

I can offer that gift when I reach out to those who are lonely and who may be in quarantine by sending an encouraging note through the mail, making a phone call, sending ‘thinking of you’ thoughts via email, texting, or social media just to brighten another’s day.

I can give the gift of caring when I pray for those who are affected by the pandemic whether through illness or hardship. I can donate to worthy causes that will support and help those in need during this unprecedented season.

I can be simple, humble, and sincere while I give Christmas gifts of peace, joy, and love. I can and will celebrate Christmas this year, no matter how different it may be.

“Christmas is most truly Christmas when we celebrate it by giving the light of love to those who need it most.” ~ Ruth Carter Stapleton

©2020 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

Looking up for Christmas

FBIMG_0313(Note from Mama’s Empty Nest: During this busy Christmas season, I’m reposting blogs from several years ago. If you missed why, please click on this link for my reasons. The following post is from December 2010.) 

Color of skin – not green.  Heart – normal size.  Miserly ways – don’t think so.  Crankiness – well…sometimes.  Conclusion – I’m a normal human being, neither the Grinch nor Scrooge.

Really! Christmas has always been my favorite holiday. Honestly!  To me it IS one of the “most wonderful times of the year.” Truly!

Somewhere in my rants about not feeling up to decking the halls and proclaiming ho-ho-ho with mistletoe, I think I have left my readers with the mistaken belief that I’m not a Christmas person.  Completely untrue.  It’s just that this year instead of being a Christmas fanatic, I’m in more of a reflective mood about the season I love.

I celebrate Christmas to commemorate the greatest gift God gave mankind when over 2000 years ago, a tiny babe was born in Bethlehem.  That baby was the Messiah, Emmanuel, God With Us, Jesus Christ.  But as I get older, I have to question what the hoopla we’ve made Christmas truly has to do with worshiping our Savior.

Many of the Christmas customs we utilize have nothing to do with our belief in Jesus.  The light displays, the adorned Christmas tree, the over-indulgent feasts, the even more over-indulgent presents.  What does any of it mean?

Every year the commercialism of the season grates on me.  The frantic rush to the shopping malls to spend outrageous sums of money on gifts that we really don’t need saddens me when I know millions of our fellow human beings in the world are starving or have no decent housing.

The fulfillment of Christmas wish lists with gift cards and money make me sadder yet.  Why don’t we just exchange money instead of calling it a gift? 

To me, a gift is something you thoughtfully consider.  You think about the person you are giving the gift to, and you know that loved one well enough to choose something that will touch his or her heart and show how much you love and care for that person.  But that takes time and consideration and in the crazy frenzy (only 14 more shopping days till Christmas!), it’s easier to just fulfill the items on a list.

My family is no different from any other families out there; there have been some wish lists being emailed back and forth and we have succumbed to this way of shopping.  Oh, we try to give to the needy whether it is donating to the bell-ringers of the Salvation Army, shopping for gifts to bestow on a family who is having a difficult year, filling shoe boxes for Samaritan’s Purse to be distributed to needy children, or purchasing “gifts” of animals, clothing, or other necessities to be sent world-wide through World Vision.

But is that enough?  I think that’s why I’m feeling a little rebellious about this season of Christmas.  I want Christmas to mean more.  I want it to be revered, not just as a cherished tradition, but as a time when we stop focusing on the foolishness, ponder the wonder of God coming to earth to live among us, and give thanks for the saving gift of grace that our Lord Jesus Christ is.

I sometimes wonder what Jesus thinks about our elaborate celebrations and I’m reminded that He was born in a simple, lowly place.  He lived His life here on earth in a plainly simple way, but oh, how much He accomplished!

He did not require jewels, fancy robes, or tables set before Him with an amazing array of food and drink.  He did not expect exquisite decorations in the homes He visited.  His focus was simply on people – the weak, the infirm, the needy, and the lost.  He didn’t ask for gifts, instead He gave His life as the ultimate gift when He took the sins of the world upon Himself and sacrificed His life on the Cross for us. 

I’ve been reading a non-fiction book called Extraordinary Faith by Sheila Walsh.  It’s not a new book and I’ve had it on my shelf for quite some time.  I read it for a while, and then get busy and put it down, but I keep coming back to it because I really want to finish it.  It’s good stuff.

Yesterday I took a little bit of time to open the book’s pages once again.  And what I read in the chapter called “When We Fix Our Eyes on Jesus” imparted great truth to me.  Ms. Walsh writes, “Faith here is a call to look up, to gaze at our Savior.  Faith is a passionate gaze at the only One who can save us.”

She continues and then adds a passage of scripture, “Perhaps the greatest call to gaze on our Lord appears right after the great faith chapter of Hebrews 11: ‘Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.’ (Hebrews 12:1-2)”

That’s what I think is often missing at Christmas.  We fail to look up, to gaze at the One who was sent on our behalf to save us from eternal separation from God. We don’t fix our eyes on Jesus.  This year, I want to forego the trappings of Christmas.  I want to throw off those things that hinder me from looking up and gazing at my Savior.  I hope I can encourage you to do the same.

“Lift up your heads, O you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.” ~ Psalm 24:7

I want to fix my eyes on the King of Kings and Lord of Lords instead of gazing at a landscape of luminous lights, garlands of greenery galore, a bedecked and bedazzled balsam tree or the panoramic plethora of presents stacked beneath it.  Instead of spending all of my time time baking and cooking and shopping, I want to feed my soul and the souls of others with the Word of God.

For those of us who call ourselves believers in Christ, the season of Christmas should be first and foremost a season of faith – faith that is sufficient for everything we need.   

God had His fingerprints all over the gift He gave us that very first Christmas, His Son Jesus Christ.  And today, centuries later, He still has His fingerprints on us. Let us rejoice and be exceedingly glad.

I pray that this Christmas you will fix your eyes on Jesus, that you will allow the Word of God to speak to your life amidst the hustle and bustle of the season.

“Faith is not wishful thinking or theatrics.  Faith is born in us as we fix our eyes on Jesus and as we recognize the fingerprints of God the Father all over our lives.”  ~ Sheila Walsh

©2010 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

Hauling out the holly

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Image ©mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

(Note from Mama’s Empty Nest: During this busy Christmas season, I’m reposting blogs from several years ago. If you missed why, please click on this link for my reasons. The following post is from December 2011.) 

What a difference a year makes.  That statement may sound cliché, but it’s true.

Here’s how I know this.

Last year (2010) around this time, my attitude was notably different than my attitude is today.  Don’t believe me? Read this.

Last year, I was:  (Pick one)

  1. Grumpy
  2. Grinch-like
  3. Melancholy
  4. Suffering from empty nest syndrome
  5. All of the above

If you chose “E,” you get the gold star! 

Last year at this time, I struggled to drum up some Christmas spirit.  The crates full of holiday decorations lay idle strewn through the house, but I didn’t possess the motivation or desire to bedeck the surroundings.  My mind, kidnapped and trapped by melancholy, continually persuaded me to ignore the approaching season of joy just as surely as my heart, harbored in sadness, agreed.

Empty nest syndrome and grief over my father’s passing reigned.  My husband erected the artificial Christmas tree and strung it with twinkling lights, but it sat forlorn in the living room with no ornaments sprucing up its bare branches.   Garland did not festoon anything nor were candles blazing in the windows.   If it weren’t for hubby accomplishing the outside light decorating, our house would have sat as dark and dreary as I felt.

I was able-bodied, but always seemed tired, cold, sleepy, or lethargic.  With no kids in the house anymore or elderly father to check up on, I sure had the time, but I just couldn’t muster up the inclination.  This lackadaisical attitude towards the Christmas season was as foreign to me as meeting up with an alien from outer space on my front lawn….it just doesn’t happen.

I’m one of those people who loves Christmas.  I usually have all of my greeting cards addressed, stamped and the annual missive to friends and family printed and tucked inside the envelopes ready to mail by December 1. 

Shopping is accomplished early and by early, I mean way before Thanksgiving.  Christmas tree and all of the other festive decorations  garnish and embellish our house the weekend after Thanksgiving.  But last year, I literally and finally forced myself to do….something… and half-heartedly prepared for the most beloved time of the year.

Thankfully, this year is different.  I’m not so able-bodied (still suffering with some back and hip problems); I don’t have quite as much time; but I’m raring to go.   Our house is ablaze with Christmas lights and finery outside; hubby and I finished that Thanksgiving weekend.

The tree sparkles in the living room with all its treasured ornaments resting on its branches.  Christmas cards are addressed and will fill the mailbox soon (should be working on that Christmas letter instead of this blog post!).   With any luck, we should complete our shopping this weekend.

So what has changed from last year?  My attitude.

I can’t change the fact that my kids have grown up, moved out, and have their own lives. I can’t change the fact that there are beloved faces missing from my family gathered around the Christmas tree.   But I can change one thing….me.   I can be a Scrooge, a Grinch, a Grumpy Gus, but I don’t have to be.

All it takes is a little Christmas and the knowledge that God loved us so much, He sent His only Son as the most perfect gift on that first Christmas so long ago.

Okay, I’m off to haul out some more holly and this year, the Christmas village will once again adorn the kitchen.  So in case you’re a little low on Christmas spirit, I’m sharing my all-time favorite Christmas decorating song with you because we need a little Christmas right this very minute.

“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” ~ Maya Angelou

©2011 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

 

Weighed down with Christmas expectations

blogDSCN8399I’m back in the saddle again (or should I say back on my sleigh?), recovering from the flu/cold bug that forced me to rest.  And I’m still on my determined quest to make this Christmas simple.

Where did we get this insane idea that our Christmas celebration has to be perfect?  Perfectly decorated. Perfectly gifted.  Perfectly baked and cooked.  Perfectly wrapped.  Perfectly full of overabundance. 

We load ourselves down with expectations for holiday perfection until we are fretful and frazzled, weary and worn, and exhausted instead of exhilarated.  We spend too much time and effort on the unrealistic expectations when we should focus on the expected One.

We wait, usually impatiently and irritated, in long lines at the checkout stand.  In long lines at the post office.  In long lines at the gift wrapping counter of our favorite department store.  In lanes of traffic jammed with cars heading to the nearest shopping mall.

And yet, we don’t take time to wait for the anticipated One.  The One we light the Advent candles for.  The One who is the reason for the season.  The One whose name the holiday bears.

We search for just the perfect Christmas card, write the perfect Christmas letter to enclose within, all in the name of sending good cheer to our friends, families, and neighbors.  But reality is that we’re anything but cheerful.  Anything but merry.  Anything but sincerely sending warm wishes to anyone.

Our mode of operation is to overload on the material things of this world which will not fill the empty holes in our hearts.  Will not bring us happiness.  Will not spread good will.  Will not envelope our hearts with love.

Only one thing can do that – completely fill our hearts and souls with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and goodness.  All those things we gush about at Christmas time yet don’t put into practice.  We can utter the words, we can have good intentions, we can attempt to craft the perfect Christmas but until we make Christmas simple, we will fall short every time.

And the simplicity of Christmas is this:  “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” ~ Isaiah 9:6

So when the frenzy of the season wears us down, when Christmas weighs on us like a chore not a celebration,  when we focus on the things of this world and their glitter and glitz,  we’ve forgotten that One truly perfect expectation.  That’s when I need to set my mind on the Expected One.  That’s my wish for a simple Christmas.  Simply full of Jesus.  

 ©2013 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

 

Christmas isn’t just for children

blogDSCN8249Christmas, in the eyes of children, must be the most magical time of the year.

I’m far from childhood, but the sights, sounds, scents, and memories of Christmas always boost my spirit.

“Our hearts grow tender with childhood memories and love of kindred, and we are better throughout the year for having, in spirit, become a child again at Christmas-time.”  ~Laura Ingalls Wilder

A couple of weekends ago, hubby and I rounded up two of our three adult children plus one (oldest daughter’s Best Beau) and summoned them home from the city for a day.  We planned a special outing to a spot they had never visited, which reminded me of treks we took when they were little to see various Christmas light displays in whatever area of the country we were living at the time.

blogDSCN8246So the five of us piled in the car traveling north for a day excursion, where we spent several hours in a child’s fantasy land.   Well-known in our neck of the woods is a store named Kraynak’s,  a home and garden store that becomes a fantasy land twice a year every year.

During the Christmas season, folks line up outside in the cold, wintry air to enter the store just to venture through its Santa’s Christmasland,  a 300-foot long seasonal display which prompts lots of oohs and aahs.  In the spring, another display called Easter Bunny Lane attracts visitors.  And it’s all free.

Of course, it’s difficult to vacate this huge store without purchasing something because there is a gift shop, garden center, room after room stock piled with every Christmas decoration known to mankind, and the most sought-after section for families with children – the toy store!  Every kind of toy, from the latest gadget to the simplest toy from yesteryear, perches on the shelf waiting to be purchased.

blogDSCN8255If you enjoy erecting an electric train display to circle the Christmas tree, there is an entire section for those enthusiasts.  All five of us ambled down the toy store aisles exclaiming over our finds.    Fun for young and old kids alike!

And then we visited the candy aisles….the child in all of us and our sweet tooth truly surfaced.  We left the store with our Christmas spirits lifted and our wallets emptier, but it was a good feeling.

We filled our growling stomachs by grabbing some lunch at a nearby restaurant, which turned out to be advantageous before we ventured down the street to another special spot, Daffin’s Candies to visit their Chocolate Kingdom.

If the inviting scent of chocolate greeting you the moment you step inside doesn’t whet your appetite for this creamy candy, viewing a village made completely of chocolate, including a 400 pound chocolate turtle, will!  And then you get to taste a free sample chocolate made right there at the shop.  Of course, that seals the deal, you have to buy some candy!

blogDSCN8248The day proved whimsical and it transported us back to happy days of Christmas merriment.    As we meandered our way back home at the end of the day,  oldest daughter’s beau remarked, “This really was fun!”

And he was right, it really was fun, but more than that, it was a day to make lasting Christmas memories, even though our children are not children any longer but are mature adults.   I’ve been known to lament that Christmas isn’t as fun anymore because we have no wee ones in our midst, but today, Chapter 12 on page 12 in my Opportunity book, I’ve realized that Christmas magic doesn’t happen just for children.

“Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childish days; that can recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth; that can transport the sailor and the traveler, thousands of miles away, back to his own fire-side and his quiet home!”  ~ Charles Dickens

 ©2011 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

Hauling out the holly

blogDSCN8188What a difference a year makes.  That statement may sound cliché, but it’s true.

Here’s how I know this.

Today is the first Friday in December, Page 2 in my 12th Chapter of my book called Opportunity.  Last year around this time, my attitude was notably different than my attitude is today.  Don’t believe me? Read this.

Last year, I was:  (Pick one)

A.  Grumpy

B.  Grinch-like

C.  Melancholy

D.  Suffering from empty nest syndrome

E.  All of the above

If you chose “E,” you get the gold star!  Last year at this time, I struggled to drum up some Christmas spirit.  The crates full of holiday decorations lay idle strewn through the house, but I didn’t possess the motivation or desire to bedeck the surroundings.  My mind, kidnapped and trapped by melancholy, continually persuaded me to ignore the approaching season of joy just as surely as my heart, harbored in sadness, agreed.

Empty nest syndrome and grief over my father’s passing reigned.  My husband erected the artificial Christmas tree and strung it with twinkling lights, but it sat forlorn in the living room with no ornaments sprucing up its bare branches.   Garland did not festoon anything nor were candles blazing in the windows.   If it weren’t for hubby accomplishing the outside light decorating, our house would have sat as dark and dreary as I felt.

I was able-bodied, but always seemed tired, cold, sleepy or lethargic.  With no kids in the house anymore or elderly father to check up on, I sure had the time, but I just couldn’t muster up the inclination.  This lackadaisical attitude towards the Christmas season was as foreign to me as meeting up with an alien from outer space on my front lawn….it just doesn’t happen.

I’m one of those people who loves Christmas.  I usually have all of my greeting cards addressed, stamped and the annual missive to friends and family printed and tucked inside the envelopes ready to mail by December 1.  Shopping is accomplished early.  Tree and all of the other festive decorations  garnish and embellish our house the weekend after Thanksgiving.  But last year, I literally finally forced myself to do….something… and half-heartedly prepared for the most beloved time of the year.

Thankfully, this year is different.  I’m not so able-bodied (still suffering with some back and hip problems); I don’t have quite as much time; but I’m raring to go.   Our house is ablaze with Christmas lights and finery outside; hubby and I finished that Thanksgiving weekend.

The tree sparkles in the living room with all its treasured ornaments resting on its branches.  Christmas cards are addressed and will fill the mailbox soon (should be working on that Christmas letter instead of this blog post!).   With any luck, we should complete our shopping this weekend.

So what has changed from last year?  My attitude.

“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” ~ Maya Angelou

I can’t change the fact that my kids have grown up, moved out, and have their own lives.  I can’t change the fact that there are beloved faces missing from my family gathered around the Christmas tree.   But I can change one thing….me.   I can be a Scrooge, a Grinch, a Grumpy Gus, but I don’t have to be.

All it takes is a little Christmas and the knowledge that God loved us so much, He sent His only Son as the most perfect gift on that first Christmas so long ago.

Okay, I’m off to haul out some more holly and this year, the Christmas village will once again adorn the kitchen.  So in case you’re a little low on Christmas spirit, I’m sharing my all-time favorite Christmas decorating song with you because we need a little Christmas right this very minute.

 ©2011 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com