All the kinfolk are gatherin’ around the icicle-strewn Douglas fir tree shaking and rattlin’ trying to guess what is in the presents they are soon to open. I remember waking to the smell of bacon frying Christmas morning. As I rushed into the living room, the tree would sparkle with what seemed like a thousand stars. I just knew that I caught a glimpse of Santa as the jolly old elf was moving about the house the night before.
There were so many beautifully wrapped red, green, silver and gold packages that my mother carefully placed under the tree, only to see all her handiwork destroyed in a matter of minutes Christmas morning.
My parents worked hard to put inside those packages items we had our eyes on, that we said we just could not live without. I know there were times they sacrificed what they wanted so that we would have a memorable Christmas. It is amazing though, since reaching adulthood I realized that “our wants will not hurt us.” If we do not get something we want, it is not going to be the end of world. In fact, in most cases, it is probably for the best.
I know my parents also were awakened much as I was with the smell of homemade buttermilk biscuits cooking in the oven. I’m sure they and their siblings rushed in to see the tree and their stockings filled with their presents.
Unlike my brothers and I, many in my parents’ generation were lucky to receive an orange, a stick of candy and maybe some small toy that their parents scraped and saved to buy. Toys were usually a luxury, as practical items like shoes or clothes were more likely.
My parents worked to give me and my brothers more Christmas gifts than they knew. Even more than the gifts they shared with us, it was the true spirit of the season that stands in my memory today.
In recent weeks as we pushed through the crowds of shoppers at Wal-Mart, we’ve seen the aisles covered in Barbies and GI Joes, icicle lights, and light-up Santa statues of every shape and size with which we can adorn our homes. When we attend the church plays and school recitals, we should remember really what the spirit of Christmas is, as we recognize the birth of Jesus, our Lord and Savior. In the center of the celebration are our families. We are given the opportunity to pause and remember God’s greatest gift to us, his son.
Children today would be amazed how little many of our parents had for their childhood holidays. Back then they did not know they only had a little, because they had as much as any of their neighbors and in many cases more. During the holidays, our family gathered together around a table set with a mouth-watering feast prepared by loving hands with the ingredients available no matter how meager or abundant. The family would make a trip into the woods and select a tree off the farm, which they cut down and brought back home. The family decorated the tree with popcorn strings, construction paper chains and ornaments they crafted by hand.
Like the decorations, many of the gifts they shared were also fashioned by the hands of the parents, grandparents or siblings.
To me more than the toys, I remember what our family did together.
At our family dinners, mother always made it a point to include a neighbor or relative who was alone. While the holiday can be joyous for some, for others who are alone due to distance or the loss of a loved one, the time can be unbearable. Including someone outside the immediate family in your holiday festivities reminds us and our young people the importance of caring about others.
We always worked to gather items for those in need. Sometimes we knew them, sometimes we didn’t. Whether it was clothes, toys, or food, we tried to make someone else’s holiday better. I remember one year my mother and dad worked to gather and repair old bicycles to improve the holiday for the children of a large family.
I learned to cook very early. One of my tasks was to help prepare the Christmas cookies, which we shared with others who might not have them.
I’ll never forget one year. I thought I would help by getting a jump on the baking tasks, so I followed my grandmother’s cookie recipe. What I did not realize is that I had to adjust the mixture for the use of self-rising rather than plain flour. So, let’s just say the salt I added gave a new meaning to the words bitter sweet. But the gallons we prepared were still eaten, with more wanted and needed.
No matter what you plan for the holidays, remember it is not how brightly you decorate your home, the expense or number of the gifts you buy or the volume at which you play and sing the beloved carols that make it Christmas. It is what you do with your family to make it a memory that will stand for a lifetime, not only for you but for all those your family can touch this Christmas season. Take the time to make a difference. God never promised tomorrow, so make sure this Christmas counts. You may just change a life —yours!