I am sitting here trying to figure out what it is about Christmas that I look forward to the most. I think what I really like the most is the whole sense of anticipation that goes with so much of the holiday. And the memories.
My earliest memories are of family; gathering around the tree; eating at tables stretched out to their full length with extra seating for the kids somewhere; singing and my dad and grandfather playing their violins; always before opening gifts the reading of the Christmas story by my grandfather, now by my father. Christmas Eve began the major part of our celebrations in good old Scandinavian style for our mixed English /Swedish family.
Mixed in with the family memories are others closely related; Christmas programs and the practices (not always good memories); memorizing the story from Luke; advent candles; early morning Jullotta services. Always home and church at the centre of the celebrations. A pastor’s family doesn’t go away at this time of year very often.
Then there is whole set of memories having to do with Christmas in the Congo. Our little silver tinsel tree that was so shabby but worked to fill a hole of loneliness that first year when we had so much adjusting to do and when Christmas was still a forbidden holiday in the newly named Republic of Zaire. Learning to do Christmas in the tropics a long way from family. Learning to absorb other traditions that we were not used to; rice pudding, the Christmas Eve Buffet supper, The 4 am service at the church the drums beating the wake up call after a night of hearing the singing continue till midnight at the church. Opening homemade gifts or ones that had been purchased in anticipation of this day a few years before. A bottle of Coke became a gift of lasting remembrance, as did hand dipped chocolates. I learned to do many things to prepare for the season from curing and smoking my own ham to making tourtière. There was always sewing either for Christmas or for the new dress or shirt for the school program. And always the gathering and purchasing of gifts for our household help. There was no commercialization there were no stores to speak of. But there was celebration. And the people of the Congo celebrated, having known what it was like to have Christmas celebrations forbidden for about three years.
Now, for me, the Christmas season still holds us together as a family. Everyone will be home at my house on Christmas Eve since we carry on that part of my Scandinavian tradition. At our supper, we will have ham, turkey, rice pudding and tourtière. All foods which not only fill our stomachs but refill our memory banks. Then stuffed we will all go to the Christmas Eve service, (Leo and I may go to the early morning service if there is one, but our kids never were too keen on this tradition.) then back we go to our house for the reading of the story and the gifts.
It is a crazy hectic season. But it is so full of good things for me. I guess we could do without a lot of the gifts and decorations and we try not to go overboard on them. But the joy that decorating brings to some of my kids I wouldn’t give up for anything. To others of my kids the giving of gifts and watching the receiver open them is what it is about and that too I wouldn’t give up. And I would not want to give up the memories that the season brings back or not pass on some of theses good times and memories to my children and grandchild. And as our family enlarges we incorporate new ways of celebrating that will get passed down along the way.
Maybe I see a lot of what Christ came to do in the way we celebrate his birth. We are family together and love each other. We don’t exclude the ones that may still be quite unlovely, and we take in new members and they become part of how we celebrate too.
I understand that for some people this is a sad and difficult time; that there may not be much to celebrate and that it just seems a commercial rip off. But to me that is exactly why he came. God incarnate – coming into our world – into our families, into our world that has things all screwed up, even into our sad and depressed lives. Loving us enough to come. Sharing our humanness, experiencing our pain. Being our only reason to celebrate.