Nope, this is not my childhood home. It’s a bit better than the one I remember. Regardless, there still were some Christmas traditions that were just as lovely. That’s the great thing about memories. You can pick and choose which ones to bring to life on a cold December night like tonight . . .
She loved Christmas. Like all moms, all the ornaments we made during our childhood decorated the tree along with those glass ornaments that sometimes peeled from being stored in the heat of the attic over the summer. There were four that never faded, however. I don’t really know where they came from yet do recall that they were bright pink, a double-pointed teardrop shape, and sparkly in silver and sequined adornments. She always placed them near the top of the tree like icing on a chocolate layer cake. Then there were the ones we made by pinning seed beads and ribbon into satiny foam balls. The ones my mom made had the beads lined up in straight lines (unlike mine!). Colored lights lit the inside; silvery tinsel draped over the top of everything twinkled on the outside. Fabulous indeed!
No matter my means over the years, I still use a white sheet like my family did as a tree skirt. It looks to me like the snowy drifts that cover the Midwest in winter time and it’s a perfect backdrop for the little ceramic nativity set nestled within the folds. I think most of us had a set made by my Aunt Shirley. The little lambs (held by the shepherds), no more than 3/4 inch tall were my favorite part of the first Christmas scene. We always placed a few angels above where Jesus lain . . . or maybe it was me who insisted they go there! I can’t remember.
When I was really small and my Dad was still around, we would leave out cookies on Christmas Eve for Santa. I still recall the delight of seeing the crumbs on that white Corelle salad plate in the morning, picturing the big guy munching on them with ash in his beard from the drop down the chimney. The best part was when my Dad had used his work boots to make dusty footprints coming from the fireplace hearth leading out onto the gold, scalloped carpeting. Must have irked my mom to have to clean it all up Christmas morning! She was like that. Always cleaning.
Her Christmas party for all of our family was usually on Christmas day. She had tins and Tupperware containers filled with our favorite Christmas cookies to keep the “bottomless” chrome platters stocked throughout the evening. It was my unofficial job to see to that. I liked the powdered-sugar coated rum balls and cocoa refrigerator cookies the best. It took me decades to appreciate the thumbprint confections rolled in walnuts and filled when warm with Smuckers jelly. Now they are my favorite. Or is it the chocolate crinkles from her mom’s recipe? So many from which to choose!
Cookies, boxes of chocolates, and tons of food filled the kitchen counter all night long. One year it would be rolled cold cuts with cheese and another year a honey-baked ham that was a gift from her employer where she was an office manager. Every coffee table or side table had M&M’s or nuts on it until a toddler stuffed his or her face with one too many! There was always a bar with the aunt and uncle’s favorites, every flavor of pop (don’t say soda!), an ice bucket, and those little clear plastic cups that only got used for parties. Our bellies were all stuffed by night’s end.
My mom loved to give gifts. We used to think it was my Dad who spent too much money on toys when we were little but my mom had her own way of giving generously too. Every year she prepared about 20 gifts of the same kind to give away to our cousins and any other kids who showed up at the house Christmas night. I think I was envious of what they got; I truly don’t remember a single one except for the fanny packs she gave out one year! I watched out the window on and off all afternoon until it got dark outside, looking forward to the party Christmas night for a personal reason: my Godmother always brought a special gift for me. In the Catholic faith, the parents ask a male and female to be the child’s Godfather and Godmother, respectively, before the baby’s baptism. I understand that their role from the time of the baptism ceremony is to mentor the little one in matters of faith as he or she grows up . . . and give birthday and Christmas gifts too!
My Aunt Shirley, my mom’s next youngest sister, got it right on both counts. My Godmother did take a special interest in me as I grew up and continued when my life got complicated by the events occurring around me. I still have my confirmation prayer book and the green ceramic pitcher she gave me. It was at her church in Royal Oak, Michigan that I would first encounter the love of Jesus Christ during the baptism service of her youngest son, Tommy. I became his Godmother that night as a teenager. It would take me years to realize that being a Godmother was about more than gifting (which I often forgot to do for Tom when I was away at college or out doing life), that mentoring a child unto a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ is the most important role of all. I was glad to learn later in life that Aunt Shirley knew Jesus too. It just doesn’t matter what church you go to or what rituals you follow when you meet the God of the Bible.
Yes, my mom loved Christmas and so do I. She liked silly things like a stuffed moose with a green-n-red plaid scarf wrapped around its neck or a musical snowman that she placed at the end of the kitchen counter all December long. I smile remembering these traditions, these memories. These are good ones. I just wish I knew whether or not she personally knew the person of Jesus Christ represented by the little ceramic baby in her ceramic and wooden manger scene.
When I entered my mom’s home after she had passed away, I noticed a greeting card on her kitchen table that I had sent to her a month earlier. On it was a cute picture of a little boy wearing a Detroit Tiger’s baseball cap. I knew she would get a kick out of it! Inside was a Gospel message from me and invitation to accept Christ as Lord and Savior. Of all the things that could have been on that kitchen table at that time in her life, one was that card with the cute kid on it and important message inside that remained. Amazingly, I found that card in a store where I lived at the time in the land of Chicago Cubs and White Sox fans! I wonder: surely she understood the meaning of Christmas and entered in the presence of the Lord as His own before she died? I just don’t know.
One day I will know. And so will you, Gentle Reader. I hope we will both remember Christmas as a time when we celebrate with more than cookies and gifts, ceramic nativity sets and church services. The greatest sacrifice was made 2,000 years ago to give us life eternal if we but believe in what Jesus did for us on His cross. Join me in celebrating with Jesus in your heart this December night and always. There’s a great and eternal party that awaits in heaven one day for us if we do!
Isaiah 9: 6-7
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.