One year I opened a Christmas gift to discover two cap guns and a little leather gun belt with a holster on each side. I think there may have been a marshal’s badge in the set as well. Once Daddy brought home a nativity set of cardboard figures. Each had to be punched out and set on little cardboard stands to form a stable, Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus, shepherds, cattle, sheep, and wise men. I remember “helping” my parents set up the scene and place an electric star above the stable. We displayed it on the bookcase that held our encyclopedia Americana and the twenty some volumes of the Book of Knowledge. That nativity scene served us for many seasons and still brings warm feelings with its memory. We went into the woods one year to cut the tree that Daddy had picked out. Actually we went, but only Daddy was to cut. We arrived to find that the tree had already been harvested. Daddy was troubled that someone had come into our private woods and taken the tree. It seemed odd to me that people would trek all that long ways into a woods that they surely knew was not their own to cut a tree, but in retrospect it was probably more easily accessed from the road behind than from our own house at the front of the lot.
After we moved away from Texas we would return often at Christmas and spend Christmas morning at the Watsons’. They had a full compliment of Christmas traditions, one of which was greeting each other with, “Christmas Gift” on that special morning. I believe one was actually supposed to reward the first person to greet one in that manner with a physical gift, but I don’t ever remember doing that. I remember exchanging names within the extended family and someone gave me a nice little green and yellow dump truck.
Because we traveled away for Christmas we would often have our own family “Christmas” early. This would sometimes confuse my friends, both of them, when I would excitedly show off my Christmas present a week before the day actually arrived. They didn’t understand why Santa Claus would be traveling before Christmas Eve, but I knew where the presents really came from. One year I got a box of Lincoln logs; one year a hatchet. Grandma and Grandpa always sent a package because they lived too far away to come visit or for us to visit them. It always said Grandma and Grandpa, but I suspected that Grandpa was too busy to be involved. One year they sent Donna a package of underwear whose package boldly proclaimed, “No more droopy seat.” We enjoyed teasing her for years to come over her no more droopy seat pants.
One year we bought a New View. It was a binocular unit that displayed slides in a fashion that caused them to appear three dimensional. It was not as nice as the viewer that the Watsons had or the one that my friends had, but it was fascinating. One of the picture sequences was of the Christmas story with the manger scene, the shepherds and angels, and the wise men traveling on dromedaries over the desert wastes. It seemed I could never tire of watching that sequence. We fought over the viewer.
While I was in elementary school I became quite fond of Christmas carols. Among my favorites were “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and “Away in a Manger”. We had a High Fidelity record player and among the 45 rpm records that we had were “Frosty the Snowman” and “Winter Wonderland”. One year at church they let me sing my favorite song. I sang “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” for the whole congregation.
I was away from home in basic training for my eighteenth Christmas, but when I came home on leave my family celebrated with me as if the day had waited until I could be there. They gave me a shoe shine kit which I still have today.
As I grew older and became the head of my own family, I began to practice traditions that would emphasize the story of Christ’s coming to earth as a baby in a manger. Oh, we always exchanged gifts, but I tried to make certain that the gifts were not the primary, or at least the first, focus of the day. It’s funny that when I recall childhood Christmases I only remember a few gifts, but I’m certain there was more to them.
We went to visit Mommy and Daddy one Christmas and on Christmas Eve Daddy went with us to the store to get a few gifts so that the children would have something to open. Mommy bought me a pocket knife although she didn’t get gifts for the other adults. It struck me as odd that they had made no special preparations for Christmas now that their children were all out of the house, but I can understand now how easily that could happen.
Memories of Christmas for me now include a flood of scenes of my own little children; times far from home; sad times of failure and separation; Christmas music; Sylvia singing Amy Grant songs with me; a little boy choosing to go with me alone because he wanted to see Grandma Lula Mae; children forced to choose between parents and families for the holidays; first Christmases without a loved one; the warmth of loving family members during the cold of winter; snow, that beautiful, horrible stuff; waves of sadness and joy. I usually cry when I visit memories of Christmas, but strangely, perhaps, I long to go there again.
Through all the memories of Christmas I struggle to remind myself that it really is about remembering that God in His unfathomable mercy sent Jesus the Christ to be born of a little fifteen year old virgin, to walk this earth, and to suffer and die that sinful men might be reconciled to Him, their Creator. Hark! The heavenly angels still sing, but will we have the ears to hear them this Christmas time? Perhaps in some way that we cannot understand we were all there when Gabriel visited Zechariah, Mary, and Joseph. Perhaps we were all properly represented when the angel choir serenaded shepherds on a lonely Judean hillside. Perhaps we were really all there in that bustling little town of Bethlehem when the holy family was turned aside to spend the most important night of human history in a cave with sheep and cows while the masses of humanity milled about the streets or slept soundly in warm comfortable quarters. Were we all really there when he sat on a mountainside and proclaimed, “Therefore, you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect?” Surely we were all as well as there when He who had been the tiny Baby of the manger stood before the condescending glare of Pilate and heard the words, “What is truth?” It was our immeasurable privilege to be there in spirit when His dying voice cried out, “Tetelesthai!”; it is finished; paid in full. We will all be there to hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” or “Depart from Me, for I never knew you.”
What will be my Christmas memories when this season has passed? What will I get for Christmas this year? What will I give?