Christmas, Past and Present

Christmas was once a very stressful time for me. As a child I wondered if Mr. and Mrs. Claus would have one too many toddies and forget to put out presents for my sister, brothers and I; or if Mr. and Mrs. Claus just wouldn’t bother to wait for Christmas morning and haul out the gifts the night before. That was my saddest Christmas morning ever!

The best part of my childhood Christmas experience was looking for a Christmas tree. There were no trips to the mountain to find the perfect sapling. No warm cider and sugar cookies to munch on as we pondered the dilemma of whether or not to purchase an 8 or 10 foot fir or blue spruce. When daddy was able, he always seemed to find a tree somewhere on the twelve acres he owned, but when the bottle won the battle we were left to discover the perfect tree by ourselves. My sister and I would set out looking high and low. Mama would sometimes go too. Then as time passed and my sister got married and moved out, it became my job to find the ideal tree.

I was always a wonderer. I’d be out in the woods everyday escaping home and finding myself. I might discover a tree in July and tag it in my memory. As Christmas approached, maybe a week before, or just a few days prior, I’d haul myself out to chop down the “Martin” Christmas cedar. Some Christmases the tree was a pitiful sight, but if I could find a tree with at least one full and gently rounded side it would work. The smell of the cedar was better than the sight anyway.

My mama gave me some of her old bulbs when I got married. Oh that first Christmas! One of Jerry’s friends came over to our small 10×60 mobile home, and together they ventured out into the wild, to now find the perfect “Byrd” Christmas tree. They came home a few hours later with what was to this day the most beautiful tree I’d ever seen, a short, perfectly shaped fresh cedar that smelled heavenly. I decorated that little tree with mama’s ornaments and some multi colored lights and I was on cloud nine with my new husband. Christmases from that day forward got much better! I didn’t find out until many, many years later that my dear husband had also been scoping out the perfect tree for us. Unfortunately it was cut out of someone’s yard! Whoever’s yard that was I am truly sorry. I promise my husband has grown beyond stealing for his new bride of 34 years.

Christmas holds much magic in the days and weeks that lead up to the day we celebrate the birth of our savior. The sparkle in children’s eyes, the glittering of lights, especially at night as they glisten and reflect against the snow. Christmas stories, and the old movie classics like Rudolph, It’s a Wonderful Life, Snoopy’s Peanut Christmas, and of course, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation with Chevy Chase. That movie may seem bizarre to most but there is so much truth in it! My favorites are the Hallmark Christmas movies. They just reach right in and squeeze at my heart. We get so caught up in what to buy for people, decorating every room to perfection, and cooking and baking until we are all ten pounds heavier, that we don’t see Christmas anymore, we just see stuff!

I must admit I don’t usually decorate until two weeks before Christmas, but this year I felt the urge last week to get started. My daughter asked me if I had bumped my head? As I went through some of my newer ornaments I pushed them aside. I pulled out the ones from Wendy’s childhood. A construction paper tree with her picture laminated on it when she was about six. A pinecone with a cute little face built on it with fake eyes, nose and mouth. Then there is the handmade ornament that my Aunt Dorothy crafted with Wendy’s one year-old picture on it. I now have Emma’s placed right beside Wendy’s. Last year Emma and I went down to the big white pines that line our lower driveway and picked up some new pinecones. We gathered them in and tied a red ribbon around them. I lovingly placed all six of them on my tree again this year, and will every year from now on. Then there is the embroidered ornament that says Merry Christmas that my mama made for me, and some little hand made red birds that she and my dear neighbor Miss Thelma made. And I always put the crocheted snowflakes that my former Sunday school teacher and dear friend Mary Lou made for each one of us in her class that year long ago. And I will always cherish the miniature cabin that my friend and editor Jo gave me last year.

My two favorite Christmas traditions are sending and receiving Christmas cards and baking pumpkin bread. I would be embarrassed to tell you how many cards I mail out, but I just love to send special wishes to those that I don’t see very often, just a little note once a year can mean so much. I appreciate each and every card I get, especially the ones with short little messages written inside. I also love to make pumpkin bread for my neighbors. I make about twenty loaves and hand deliver them a few days before Christmas. I have the best neighbors in the world, and that’s just my way of saying thank you.

I wish for just one year the world would not be in such a rush. We hurry every holiday into existence so early that before it even gets here we are planning the next one. I love to buy gifts for people, but I do so want them to feel the realness of that first Christmas over 2000 years ago. To just go back in time and listen as the animals spoke to one another as they witnessed the birth of our savior. To imagine the stillness of the night, the cold, and the loneliness that Joseph and Mary must have felt in that damp, dark stable carved out of the side of a hill.

Yes, I could carry a huge chip on my shoulder about all those sad Christmases of years past, but life is much too short to tote around unwanted memories and burdens. Christmas is a time of magic, wonder and excitement. The magic is God’s son being born to a virgin, the wonder is how He still reigns over the world, and the excitement is knowing I’ll celebrate His birthday in person with Him one day. I bet there will be a cedar tree with ancient ornaments adorning its branches, and the celebration will last for eternity!

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Cynthia Neale December 8, 2010 at 12:33 pm

You have gone through the field of your childhood and picked the brightest flowers and weeds for your life. Lovely countryside, home life, and community depicted.

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