Christmas for me is so many things. It's such a wonderfully crazy, majestic, mind numbing, heart lifting marathon that connects with every sense.
As a child, I heard the music from my parents' console as my mom played Christmas music from dawn to dusk. I tasted the holiday with each cookie, slice of ham, and, sadly, bite of fruit cake. Preachers' children received these as gifts, and to be polite were forced to eat a slice. How sad that two delectable food categories are combined to make a most detestable dessert. Fruit and cake deserve much better. I also smelled Christmas with the scent of candles, and felt it as snow crunched beneath my feet. The sights of the seasons were many. A heavily decorated sanctuary, a well lit tree with brightly wrapped gifts below, snow flakes as big as butterflies, and family. Five boys, my parents and a dog.
Christmas also meant a journey from New York to Michigan to visit my grandparents on my mother’s side. My brothers and I grew to expect carefully wrapped, “squishy presents” from Grandma. Basically, squishy meant it wasn’t going to be a toy. We also knew we’d be receiving our annual flannel shirt. Every year, flannel shirts.... That is, until they became fashionable. To our disappointment, the flannel shirt tradition ended abruptly that year, and a new out of style garment was unwrapped.
Christmas entered a new phase for me when I became a father. It was now time to try and navigate the season, making it magical for my own children, without having it become “all about the presents.” I probably failed, but one year I did get the privilege of playing the role of Santa for a friend’s family gathering. Yes, there were pillows inside my coat! As the years “rolled” on, less stuffing would’ve been needed.
I fondly remember Christmas concerts at school, hand made ornaments that my kids made for our tree, and ballet recitals. These memories are under lock and key.
As an art teacher, I frequently wove the season in to some of my lessons. Using Dr. Seuss’ Grinch as inspiration, my favorite project can be seen pictured above. My students were to design their own Grinch, based on descriptors in the book, without the figure looking like the original, or the Jim Carrey version. The results never ceased to amaze and delight.
Christmas has changed for me now. I live with a schnauzer that seems oblivious to the season. It's now a quiet season. Snow still crunches, but needs to be shoveled. Music fills my house and reminds me this is the only time of the year where radio programming is dramatically altered. It also helps direct me to the “reason for the season.” While I don’t often burn candles like my mother did, I do have a fireplace that gets a workout this time of year. I do very little decorating, as my dog is color blind, like all dogs. Thankfully, I no longer have fruit cake forced upon me. Since I’m no longer teaching, I’m not even eating many Christmas cookies. That’s probably a good thing.
Christmas no longer has the innocence, for me, it had as a child. Neither is it the magically crazy holiday it became when I was a parent of young children. Since I no longer teach, absent too are the joys of carefully taking ceramic Grinch statues out of a still warm kiln -- and then placing the hand painted finished versions in a prominently located showcase at the front of the school.
Gone now are the excuses, too. It is a most wonderful time of the year. I’m still a busy person, but am now more free to dictate my schedule. I don’t have recitals and concerts to enjoy, or the demands the season places on an educator. I can have a “Silent Night,” if I choose. Christmas tastes different now, and not because I don’t have to eat fruit cake. Perhaps I’m a little slow to the take, but I view this now as a time to be more aware of those outside my home. It can be a painful time for those experiencing loss, loneliness, health or financial challenges.
My Savior hasn’t changed, but He’s changing me, thank God. I reflect more now, and maybe over time I’ll be a better reflection of Him, and as a result be of more good to those I come in contact with.
My thoughts this year are on how He came. If I was God, I might have sent my son as a young adult. I’d drop him onto the planet, “call my child Jesus, because I like the name,” (Elton John reference), and have him give some pointed suggestions to the world I created. Then I’d swoop Jesus back up to safely sit back at my side. That’s how I’d have done it. It wouldn’t have meant much, but I’d have been a selfish God.
Instead, he came as a baby. I believe that. Some of you may not. He was born in a stinky barn. I don’t like the smell of manure. Jesus probably didn’t either, but I doubt Mary and Joseph noticed. Bigger things were going on.
The barn was just the beginning, and what followed was no less remarkable. Too much for me to comprehend as a father, but not too much to ponder. I have time. I have health. I have family. I have friends. I have faith. I don’t have fruit cake.
Merry Christmas to my transcontinental readership. I hope you enjoy the season, no matter your beliefs.