Gifts? Yes, but Much More!!
Over the last couple of weeks my articles focused on Christmas gifts given when I was growing up in Louisa. While part of most people’s festivities, gift-giving is not the real purpose of Christmas celebrations. Inasmuch as the annual phenomenon of giving and having good will toward others is important, there are many holiday traditions that Christians and non-Christians share and enjoy. Even those that are purely secular often have an origin that rise from religious practices or thought.
While I try to stay focused on memories of growing up those are fewer and less detailed as they might have been. Undoubtedly, that is because it was so long ago and represents little of my long, complex life. Indeed, gifts were important to me when I was young, but they matter little today, save the singular gift given to mankind by a gracious God so long ago. It is that gift that is the true basis of Christmas. Our celebrations are about the birth of the Christ child, the Messiah promised of old to bring forgiveness and salvation. I know that not everyone understands the religious connections of how the Christmas season ties to Easter. Those events together are the one thing making Christianity drastically different from all other religious beliefs.
In our society today, Christmas has become a mixture of religious and secular traditions that we have all come to enjoy with our families each year. While many look forward to Christmas there are those who for one reason or another, don’t. There’s little doubt that the year’s economy depends on sales of gifts, travel, and food. So much of the producers profit or loss is based on annual sales. In fact, we are all affected even if the effect is indirect. To some Christmas merely means time off from work and the daily grind. For most, it is a spell to visit and catch up with the extended family.
It is also a time to focus on the younger ones around us. Rather than pushing the little ones aside, they become a center of attention. That’s demonstrated by secular songs that were written for them such as: Jingle Bells, Frosty the Snowman, I saw Momma Kissing Santa Claus, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Silver Bells, I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas, Jingle Bell Rock, Rocking’ Around the Christmas Tree, and Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer. Recordings by Gene Autry, Burl Ives, Bing Crosby, Andy Williams, and others were and still are broadcast over the air waves and in the homes, offices, and stores about town. When I was growing up children were taught Christian Carols such as: O Little Town of Bethlehem, Joy to the World, We Three Kings, Angels We Have Heard on High, The First Noel, O Holy Night, and It Came Upon a Midnight Clear. We carry these throughout our lives. Even a stanza brings back those memories in a rush.
After the arrival of television families gathered around their TV sets to watch movies that had earlier been normal faire for local theaters. Even though the programs were not in color, we enjoyed ‘White Christmas,’ ‘A Christmas Carol,’ ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ ‘Amal and the Night Visitors,’ and ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ from home. We also saw cartoons ‘Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer,’ ‘Frosty the Snowman,’ and countless Christmas Specials with Bing Crosby, Perry Como, Andy Williams, Dolly Pardon, and others. We hung Christmas stockings on our mantels and put snow globes on displays. Some housewives put out cherished collections of Christmas villages and figurines.
Somehow this season dwarfs all others in importance. That’s true both then and now. Even non-believers enjoy the concept of ‘peace on earth and goodwill to men.’ Even those who understand the real reason for Christmas can also enjoy man’s traditions. Many make sense, but there were some that confused me as to their origins. I figured that they arose from other cultures brought to us by immigrants and over time blended with our own. We soon enough took them for granted. Now that we have Google in our hands we can discover things such as ‘why we kiss under the mistletoe,’ (who cares? Just do it), or whatever is meant by ‘Wassailing,’ what is ‘Figgie pudding,’ and why eggnog?
As a child I wondered why earlier generations put so much importance on mailing Christmas cards, or more recently including a summary of the family’s activities for the year. I wondered why we have an urge to be ‘home’ for Christmas. Was it because we wanted to remember the ‘old days’ by reliving Christmas plays or concerts, or seeing old friends and renewing bonds from long ago?
When our family got together for decorating the tree we had a tradition of sharing fresh-baked ginger-bread men, molasses cookies, and a cup of eggnog. (Not spiked) We sang our favorite carols and talked of other times, often laughing at our own mishaps. We put up strings of lights and our prized collection of tree decorations. These had been carefully retrieved from storage and placed on the tree. Many of the decorations were heirloom ornaments, or hand-made decorations that had that special meaning. Stair railings were wrapped with pine or holly and red ribbons were placed here and there. Finally, ‘The Night before Christmas’ was read to us and we were tucked into bed. Some families opened gifts on Christmas Eve while others saved that for early morning on Christmas Day.
Although not always for us, during this season food was aplenty. We had special meals during those days, but we also had finger-foods and desserts all around. There were candy canes, pressed sugar cookies with icing decorations, ginger snaps, cheese logs, cupcakes, pies, cake, baked custard, and Christmas candy. We had ham, turkey and other traditional eats. Even today our children and grandchildren expect to see certain dishes and will be quick to point out if anything is missing.
My good friend, Bernard Nelson was a store Santa but I don’t have a solid memory of that. Maybe if you’ve seen one Santa, you’ve seen them all. I do have a dark, out-of-focus memory of crawling up on Santa’s lap. I think I was scared nearly to death, but mom encouraged me. Maybe that was another Santa? The big stores in Huntington had their Santas, too, so this dim memory could have been one of those. Besides, I suspect Bernard is too close to my age for it to have been him.
As young children we watched with wide eyes those magical days when we visited others. Grownups swapped stories, and we all ate until we were about to pop. When we first arrived, older folks grabbed us and gave us hugs, and wet kisses on our face. Such was a time to take pictures with my mom’s Brownie camera. She told me that we would get the film developed later at Ed Land’s Sundry to remind us of these wonderful days. She kept an album and sometimes would show it to me and explain the events and/or persons shown.
We also remember those faces that are no longer with us. For some reason many of my family passed during or near Christmas. So many people are left to grieve in a time when we should be celebrating a birth instead of a death. I try instead to remember the times when they were here. Those memories restore us and cannot be taken away.
I have no problem sharing the joys of Christmas with non-Christians because it should help them understand a bit more about the reason of celebration. Yet, I am concerned with the trend to downplay the real reason for the season for us who are believers. The world seems all too ready to push Christianity aside, or altogether deny Christ’s mention in our celebrations. Removing Christ from schools has changed America. Taking Him out of Christmas is so wrong on many counts.
Christmas is a time to give thanks for this great Country and the traditions that bring us the feeling of goodwill toward men. It is about the Prince of Peace, not the Grinch. During this season let us play our records of Christmas Carols and tell the world of our core values. We are very different and Christmas is a chief reason. When you catch that holiday spirit please turn to another and pass it along. Oh, and Merry Christmas!