As a child, Christmas was my favorite holiday––it still is. I loved Christmas not just because of all the presents, but for the season itself. I loved that time of year because of crisp, wintry days with Jack Frost nipping at my nose, when the Fall foliage sent up its glorious last hurrah, and sweaters and gloves came out of the closets. It was a time for football, and for those of us living in England it was the season for rugby: my favorite sport.
I loved the school parties that launched the seasonal school break. I loved the Christmas and holiday songs playing on the radio and piping through department store speakers. I loved singing Christmas hymns in church and, of course, I loved the general spirit of Christmas in the air.
Back in the Stone Age, when I was a kid, the Christmas season usually kicked off on the day following Thanksgiving. The season was usually inaugurated with stores decorating their storefronts with trees and wreaths and toys and other goodies, shoppers greeting one another with Merry Christmas, garlands of holly and mistletoe crisscrossing main street, and families stringing lights around their homes.
Television even got into the seasonal spirit with perennial favorites, such as A Charlie Brown Christmas, and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, A Miracle on 34th Street, and, of course, the all time Frank Capra favorite, It’s A Wonderful Life. It’s no wonder that I loved Christmas as a kid.
What’s not to love?
Then there were our family traditions that I grew up with and looked forward to enjoying every year. I’m sure that your family had special traditions as well.
One of our traditions was trimming the tree on Christmas Eve. That’s kind of late in the season, I know, but this particular tradition arose mainly because my dad got great, closeout deals at the tree lots. Once he even bought two trees, neither of which amounted to much more than firewood. Dad drilled holes in the bare spots in the better of the two trees, then cut branches off the second one and inserted them into the holes. The tree literally went from looking like the scrawny Charlie Brown tree at the beginning of the show, to the fuller one at the end.
Way to go, Dad!
One of the best family traditions was my dad reading the Nativity story from Luke 2, after which we’d all sing Silent Night by the lit tree. Singing next to my brothers was always a little awkward, but it was a tradition that we wouldn’t do without. And then we’d cap off the evening with a glass of eggnog and sugar cookies while we set out more cookies and milk for Santa before heading off to the midnight service or bed.
I’m sure everyone reading this blog has a unique family tradition that is treasured, perhaps even continued today in their families.
I would love to hear some of them.
But the Christmas season is not always so wonderful to some. It can be a time of sorrow and sadness, too. Statistically, it’s the time of year when many people get melancholy or depressed. There are many reasons for this: unfulfilled expectations, the stress of shopping, of beating the crowds, of traffic jams on the highways, and the loss and memory of a loved one, to name a few. However, the biggest reasons for depression during the Christmas season are loneliness and the lack of being with family.
And I can attest to that.
While serving in the Marine Corps in Naples, Italy, I well remember standing guard duty on Christmas Eve in 1971. It was the loneliest Christmas I’d ever spent. I was thousands of miles away from family and friends. There were no Nat King Cole classics playing on the radio (they weren’t allowed on post). I actually looked forward to the Sergeant of the Guard inspecting my post, so that I would have someone to talk to, even briefly. Boy, was I depressed.
On a happier note, that Christmas of 1971 was the last Christmas before I became a Christ follower and truly came to understand and appreciate the meaning and purpose of the babe in the manger. You see, Christmas is not about tinsel and holly boughs, or Currier and Ives greeting cards. It’s not about parties or presents. It’s not about Christmas carols sung by a choir, or even Christmas cheer.
It’s about the Gift!
I tried to capture the emotional ebb and flow of the Christmas season in Belfry’s Christmas Gift. The following is a brief synopsis:
In this heartwarming Christmas story from Theo's Tales of Little Overhill, Belfry must think of something to give Theo at the Christmas party. He soon discovers that the best gifts are not those wrapped in ribbons and bows. Belfry's gift is one that changes the life of a gruff and lonely clockmaker, someone shunned by all of the village animals. It is the gift of love!
I think that you will enjoy reading the book with your children and families this Christmas Season. Perhaps it will even become a tradition that your children, and your grandchildren, will carry on.
Another worthy tradition that we could all do together as the family of God would be to visit the lonely or send gifts to a worthy organization. I think about the loneliness of our men and women in uniform, miles from home today. I think about those heroes in our police and fire departments who must serve on Christmas. I think about those in hospital beds, or in prisons, in rest homes or orphanages. A card or gift or visit would certainly brighten someone’s Christmas season and manifest the love of Christ, don’t you think?
Onward and upward!
Now, to one and all, have a blessed Christmas season, and always remember that because of God’s great love for every one of us He sent His only Son, wrapped not in ribbons and bows, but in the tender flesh of a little baby. Let’s celebrate Him well!