Growing up in a family of seven with my Dad as sole provider, we did not always receive much for Christmas. But the birth of Christ was emphasized and helping Mom with the decorations was something that we looked forward to. Taking the tree out of the box and setting it up was one of the first things we would do. We had tinseled garland and colored glass ornaments for the green tree. Our grandmother made for each of us children little ceramic ornaments that were hung on the tree. My little sister and brother were angels, and my brothers and I were shepherds. We had plastic icicles and tinsel to go along with the other decorations. Sometimes we would hang candy canes on as well. Although we did look forward to what would go under the tree, growing up with less taught us the value of soaking in what the season was really about.
With anticipation for Christmas morning, we would set out the Nativity Scene and recall that famed story from God’s Word. I imagined what it would have been like to have been a shepherd and receive the Good News from the angels. (Grandma’s ornament for me may have helped in that regard). To find myself within the story of Christmas was a good way for me to contemplate the Savior’s birth. I find myself still trying to do that now and I think it helps to contemplate getting lost in His story.
Mom did some baking and we got to help. Christmas cookies with different toppings, of which my favorite was the cinnamon and sugar. With cookie cutters in the shapes of angels, stars and Christmas Trees, we would take turns with each one cutting our cookies into the festive shapes.
Our grandparents and cousins lived far away, so we would usually spend Christmas at home as a family. My Dad would read the Christmas story and we would grow up with no doubt that Christ really is the Reason for the Season.
We would attend church as usual, but the excitement of this time of year was for us always a joy. One of the churches we attended had a “Living Christmas Tree”, with a choir that would sit in rows going up a tree made with platforms and covered in lights. It was a light show like no other at the time and the singing and performing were always a treat for us, especially as children. They would act out a Christmas play and people would come from all over to see it. They would have it over several weekends and many came to enjoy it along with the other festivities that time of year.
Like most kids, we had toys and things on our list that we really coveted. We could usually count on socks and underwear, but Mom and Dad tried to get a few items that we really wanted. But if they were not found under the tree on Christmas morning, I don’t recall much disappointment. We knew Mom and Dad did what they could to get some of the things we wanted, but it didn’t seem to be about the presents as much as it was about the birth of the Child. There is value in that and maybe even something that has been lost over the years. There were Christmases when we had more and ones that we had less, but we knew we were loved and cared for and that gave us some stability at home.
I remember the year my older brothers received a race track and I got a Cookie Monster that I had really been wanting. I recall another year when Mom let me open some presents a few days early. She had bought a big coloring and activity book along with some smaller ones. They kept me occupied during the time off from school before Christmas came that year.
As adults, we would make our way over to Mom and Dad’s with our respective families. The times spent together were always fun as Mom had spent some time arranging some games and activities to play as we celebrated together. As children came along and added to the family, the small voices and laughter added even more value to those treasured times. We all enjoyed opening presents and watching the reactions of everyone as they opened their presents. The mountain of wrapping paper, the kids playing with their new toys and the house that was full of life for a little while, brings back the recollections of seasons ago. Although, we have not all been able to be there these last few years, nothing can take away those celebrations.
I have fond memories of those Christmases of yesteryear and have tried to carry on some of those traditions from years ago. As the Christmas music plays and presents are ripped open, the grandchildren’s excitement spills over and into our hearts. How we enjoy their enthusiasm and laughter and it reminds us of the words of Jesus, of having faith like a child. A faith that should leave us excited when we think about His Great Love for us. When we consider it, ponder it, our hearts are filled with Great Joy, a Joy for all people.
The Joy of getting gifts is tempered with the reminder that the Christ-child is what this day is truly about. The Greatest Gift of all, One that will not leave us disappointed, gave Himself for all mankind. A King set aside His throne to wrap Himself in flesh and light and be born as a tiny human baby. He nursed and grew, played with other children and learned the Holy Scriptures. Worked as His father’s apprentice and as he fashioned and crafted wood with His hands, contemplated that wood that become His torture rack. Filled with Joy, He willingly took on the Cross and the punishment for our sins. Death has been defeated and sin will be no more. We await with anticipation His Kingdom coming, even as we learn to walk with Him and build His Kingdom here. The greatest news ever has already been told and it is a story worth retelling and reminding ourselves often. As we share it with others, they can find rest in Him and discover the Joy and Reason for the Season. With those angels, we can proclaim this fantastic news to all around us. Love has come, Hope is still alive and Abiding Joy can be found in the manger scene. This Story of Christmas is the greatest news ever and has yet to be told everywhere. Let’s tell someone today!