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