How they linger. How they ever flood my soul.
The old time Gospel song, “Precise Memories”, floats through my brain as I sit down to write this article. The Christmas season is full of precious memories for me. I started accumulating those memories in the late 1940’s and I’ve continued to add to my treasure trove with each passing year.
When I was a small child, my parents and older siblings made Christmas pure magic. When I went to bed on Christmas Eve, the only signs of Christmas were the stockings hung by the chimney. There may have been Christmas music playing on the radio, but there were no other outward signs. My family never put up the Christmas tree before Christmas Eve… and only after I’d gone to bed.
When I awoke Christmas morning, my world had changed. The tree was up and decorated; an electric train was traveling through a Plasticville village under the tree; the stockings were stuffed with fruits and nuts and small toys; and there were gifts in brightly colored wrapping paper waiting for everyone in the family.
It was a few years later while attending Sunday School that I learned that everyone’s world had changed two thousand years ago when the Christ child was born in Bethlehem.
About the same time in my development I learned the importance of giving. I saved my money for months and went shopping for gifts for everyone in my family. I can clearly remember going through a Five & Ten Cent store and looking at everything. With a limited budget, I had to spend my money very wisely. After I decided what I wanted to buy each person, I had to add up the costs to make sure I could do it. After a few adjustments, I finally had the list clear in my head and I successfully completed my shopping. Of course, I had to borrow the wrapping paper and ribbon from my mom.
Looking back on that experience, I have a feeling it was more meaningful to me than to my parents and siblings. None of my gifts were of any real value, but the feelings of joy I felt in being able to give something to each of my loved ones were priceless.
A few years later I found myself entrusted with buying the tree and setting it up on Christmas Eve so it would be there for my nephews and nieces when they came to join our Christmas feast. That’s when I first realized the very real sacrifice my parents and older siblings had made for me. Setting up our Christmas decorations was an all-night job. I went through that Christmas Day in a fog of exhaustion.
A few more years later found me in a college dormitory looking forward to the Christmas break. It was always so good to be home… especially for the Christmas holiday. I’d sing in the church choir and visit with all my high school friends who were also home from college.
Shortly after graduating from college I married my first wife. Before we had children, Christmas was nice, but the magic was gone. Her family exchanged gifts on Christmas Eve and everything had to be decorated well in advance.
When our children came along, we had to compromise. We’d go to my in-laws for Christmas Eve and exchange the gifts from the family. Then we’d go home and put the children to bed. After they were asleep we’d set out their gifts from Santa. We’d place them under the tree that was already set up and decorated. It still wasn’t the same, but our children never knew the difference. They never experienced the same magic as I.
Our children are all grown now and some of them have children of their own. I miss seeing children come down from their bedrooms and squeal with delight as they open their gifts, but at least I get to hear their excitement when they tell me what Santa brought them.
In the meantime, I’ve had other experiences that, while different, are very meaningful. Through various church and civic organizations I’ve been extremely fortunate to be on the giving end for a number of Christmases. I’ve seen the unbelievable generosity of people who donate clothing, toys, and food for the families who might not otherwise experience the joy of Christmas.
Many people believe that all the gift giving has taken Christ out of Christmas. For the folks who consider no one but their own families during the holiday season, that statement may be accurate. However, for the majority of people who are on either the giving or receiving end of donations, I believe the exact opposite is true. When people give from their hearts, they are expressing the love of a Father who willingly gave His Son to bring a message of love and peace to all humans. And when people receive those kinds of gifts, they are experiencing God’s love firsthand.
I pray that everyone will experience the love of God during this Christmas Season. I also pray that everyone who is able, physically or financially, will lend a hand to make someone else’s Christmas season a time to remember the gift of God’s love.
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