What is your fondest memory of Christmas? Were you a child or is it more recent? Do you love big family gatherings with friends all around? Or do you prefer small, intimate dinners with a few friends or immediate family?
I come from a large extended family. Forty plus people would gather in my grandparents little 4 room house Christmas Eve night. Rooms filled with people and laughter. I loved catching up with my cousins and aunts and uncles. I loved the smells coming from the kitchen – ham, potatoes, pies. I loved not feeling alone; feeling part of something big.
I remember watching the presents build up under the tree as more people came to the house. It was so exciting even though I knew only one was for me. They were for the matriarch. Grandma. When dinner was over and the long awaited anticipation of opening presents was upon us, as many as possible would crowd into that little living room. Grandma would sit in her little rocker and I and my cousins would play the elves and distribute the gifts. I loved watching the pile of gifts begin to tower up around my spry little 5 foot grandmother. As we placed another one at her feet she would exclaim, “You all really shouldn’t buy me so much…” while, at the same time, the glow on her face displayed the love she felt. It was one of two days in the year Grandma was truly honored. Christmas and her birthday. What I remember most about watching her was thinking “I can’t wait to be a grandma one day and be honored.” I did not understand what all that entailed! (One day I’ll blog just about Grandma)
Although there was lots of love and laughter on those Christmas Eve nights, there was very little Jesus. Grandma certainly loved Jesus, but to the others He was for Sunday mornings. I mean we all knew Christmas was a celebration of the birth of Jesus, but it didn’t go much beyond that. There was a small nativity, made of wood on the bookshelf in the living room. Everything else pointed to the red and green and Santa Claus. But, I knew Grandma believed deeper than the rest of us. I watched her read her devotion every day at the kitchen table. I watched her write a tithe check every week to the church. And because I knew, there is one gift, in all the years of gift giving to Grandma, I will never forget.
I had to be around 10 years old; old enough to walk to WalMart and shop by myself. I remember looking at all the shelves trying to find that one special gift to let Grandma know I loved her. And I saw it! A large print Bible. It was huge! I mean, large print takes up a lot of space. It came with it’s own wooden easel stand that you could set on a table with the Bible open to your favorite verse. I was so excited to give it to her. Over 40 years ago. I still remember. Everyone laughed when she opened it because of the large print. But, she looked at me and with a gleam in her eye said “It’s perfect.” That Bible sat open on different verses on top of the console TV until she died over 20 years later. I wish I had kept it, but in my 30s at the time I’m sure I saw no need for a large print Bible.
After I married Scott and had children, it became important to me to honor Jesus on Christmas above everyone else. I would bake a big birthday cake and decorate with the words HAPPY BIRTHDAY JESUS across the top. I would take that cake to the big family gathering. I know they all thought it a little cheesy, but I didn’t care. It was those years, toward the end of grandmas life, that things began to change. She would ask me to read a poem or a story about the birth of Jesus. She would ask Scott to pray before we all herded through the food line.
After she passed, Christmas Eve was never the same. Her little house gone, different aunts would host it year after year. There was no matriarch to honor and the Jesus cake and story readings stopped. Although we still prayed before the meal. Eventually, my kids grew and going back to Missouri became more difficult. We began spending Christmases with just our little family, here in South Carolina. I baked the cake a couple of years, but for some reason I stopped. We read the Christmas story every Christmas morning before we opened the presents, but that stopped too.
I am the matriarch now. Scary! I am the Grandma (the Gigi actually). It’s time to start new traditions with my boys. It’s time to get in the kitchen and make Christmas goodies. It’s time to bring back the Happy Birthday Jesus cake. There is no doubt in our household that Christmas is the celebration of a Savior but it’s time to slow down again and remember. The presents will get opened, the food will get eaten, the movies watched and the games played. But first we remember. We read the story, we light the candles.
I think the biggest tradition in our little family is that we don’t have a tradition! And it doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is Jesus. The joy He brings and the reason for celebrating. Can you slow down when you are all together? Be brave. Even start small. Maybe a prayer before the meal. Read the account of His birth in Luke chapter 2. Make a cake. Light the candles. Remember. Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
I pray you and yours have a blessed and joyful Christmas!!