Before you really get started reading this column, close your eyes for just a minute, and picture yourself on Christmas morning. Really. I promise I’ll be here when you get back. One, two, three, close ‘em.
Open again? Okay. So where were you? What were you doing. What did you see, hear, smell?
I’ll share first. I am at my grandmother’s house. The house is quiet, except for my Granny’s humming as she cooks. I can hear the clicking of her basset hound’s toenails on the linoleum floor as she follows Granny around the kitchen. The smell of corned beef hash wafts through the living room. The little aluminum Christmas tree glows brightly in the reflected light of the round multi-colored light machine. Unwrapped toys still sit under the tree, with neatly folded bathrobes and slippers and other warm clothes nearby. We would have a quiet breakfast, just my Mom and sister and me and Granny (and Sam the Basset hound). Soon, my aunt and cousins will return for dinner and playing outside in the South Central Kansas snow.
Your memories are probably much different. But it is not hard to conjure up a Christmas memory. They stick and stay in our heads, and we bring them out when we need to be in a happy place.
If I try again, and fast forward to when our kids were small, the scene will be similar. Some presents are unwrapped under an artificially green tree in our living room, but Santa’s special surprises: a Cabbage Patch doll, a Pound Puppy and a new pair of cowboy boots wait proudly for the first sleepy-head to emerge from the bedroom. I sit with my cup of hot tea and soak up the precious silence. Santa had come through once again, though my husband and I had wondered how he would manage with our meager paychecks. Outside, the Arkansas sun shines brightly, and I am actually thankful that there is no snow. Here in the foothills of the Ouachitas, slick roads would keep the grandparents from coming over later to watch the kids enjoy their new things. The big dinner the night before had been at their house, and I will most likely serve sandwiches today, along with any leftovers that might arrive with them. For now, heavenly peace.
Yes, the faces around the tree change, the size and value of the presents vary, but there are constants. Things seem familiar, comfortable.
Now that our kids are grown, our new normal is that we very rarely manage to have all of our offspring in the same room at the same time. We enjoy each one when we get to see them, no matter the date on the calendar. The tree goes up earlier, stays up longer, to accommodate their schedules. That is fine for me, as I have more of those quiet moments, more time to remember Christmases past.
Not everyone adjusts to changes in the Christmas routine as easily. The same memories that bring us joy, also cause pain. The absence of familiar faces diminishes our joy. We need to be aware of this, and reach out to those who suffer during the holidays.
The first Christmas was not comfortable for the young couple who had traveled a great distance to find a “No Vacancy” sign, and a baby who was born in a building intended for animals. They knew, though that something amazing was happening, having heard from angels, and visitors who came to gaze in amazement at the future king. This story is the constant that keeps Christmas so special for all of us. The realization that no matter what else happens in this world, God keeps His promises. Whether in a festive room full of friends and family, or alone in the flickering light of a fireplace, Christmas encourages us, prompts us to look around, to reach out to each other. Let’s remember the hope that filled that tiny, smelly stable so long ago. Comfortable or not, enjoy your Christmas celebration this year!