My earliest memories of Christmas celebrations took place on Long Island, the place of my birth and where I grew up from the late 60’s through the early 90’s. And I’m going to say it just as generations before me have said it. It really was a simpler time than it is today. It was a time where kids heard the word “no” more than “yes.” At least that’s how it was for us. From a very early age, my siblings and I were of the mindset that money did not “grow on trees,” because that was something we heard expressed from my mother on a weekly basis. Money was tight in our home. We did not get everything we wanted, and yet, I don’t remember ever feeling that we went without. However, at Christmas time, it was different. I don’t how my parents did it. My parents raised 7 kids on a teacher’s salary and still somehow managed to make Christmas the most magical time of year for us.
Every year it was the same. We would wait for the Christmas catalogues to arrive, circle the items we wanted most, make our lists and write our letters to Santa. Rigging up the lights, decorating the house, putting up the tree, hanging the stockings…yep, all of that took place weeks before Christmas. Baking pies and cookies you only made that one time of year, buying and wrapping gifts for loved ones and friends, singing in holiday concerts at school, (yes, they called it that back then) attending Christmas Eve service, spending time with family . . . all continue to be beautiful memories for me.
I remember how my sisters and brothers and I would sneak down the stairsat ungodly hours to catch a glimpse of what Santa left us. We were never disappointed at the sight.
Colorful lights twinkled on the tree in the darkened living room, and the gifts I knew my mother sacrificed much for were expertly arranged under and around the tree. My dad would take out his movie camera, and then the fun would begin. It really was a magical sight for a kid with a big imagination. I don’t know what it is about Christmas trees. I love their simple beauty. My sister Debbie caught me just standing there in the dark looking at our tree one Christmas Day. She put her arm around me and started to sing “Oh, Christmas Tree.” I think she was making fun of me, but it made me laugh. To this day, it has become our tradition to stand in front of the Christmas tree with arms linked together and sway to that tune.
Christmastime has always been my favorite time of year. I love it. I love everything about it. I confess proudly that I don’t mind hearing Christmas music being played on the radio before Thanksgiving is over or that the malls are decorated with lights and Christmas trees at the end of October. Don’t get me started on Black Friday deals. I enjoy picking out gifts that will bring smiles on faces receiving them. It’s not surprising that in our home, during this time of year, the Hallmark channel is the only channel that works on our TV. And crazy enough, I even love it when I feel slightly stressed that I won’t get everything done in time before the big day arrives, because I know it is going to be ok. The baking and decorating, the shopping and wrapping and giving and serving; somehow it all gets done. Christmas is coming! Christmas is coming! I feel just as excited about it now as I did when I was a kid.
And of course, I know that Christmas is so much more than any of these other things that bring me joy for the season. In the midst of the chaos, preparations, and traditions I can’t bring myself to lose sight of the fact that it’s the time of year when everyone just seems a little kinder, a little more generous, a little more loving. It’s in the atmosphere…this peace on earth and good will toward man. I can’t lose sight of the fact that this beautiful feeling I have during this time of year is special because of the whole reason Christmas came to be. Yet, it’s more than a feeling for me. It’s a truth that I hang onto not just on Christmas Day. It’s a truth that touches my heart and never fails to bring tears to my eyes every time I hear it or read it from the book of Luke.
It’s THE story! It’s the story of God’s plan. It’s the story of a baby in a manger, born of a virgin…a gift of Hope from a loving God to all mankind. A gift of hope! Now that is something to celebrate! On Christmas, I celebrate THIS…the birth of God’s son, Jesus. I cannot forget this, because I desperately need the hope that knowing Jesus brings me… not just at Christmas, but all year round.