Traditions. Although I envisioned the following scenario at the home where we lived in Owego, New York, it could have happened in any of the 18 or more houses we lived in over our growing-up years. Traditions became the glue that helped to make every house a “home.”
A Christmas Tradition
Our three stockings hung on the back of an old wooden kitchen chair. No fancy knitted or decorated stockings, they were some of Daddy’s old socks ‘cause the biggest socks would hold the most surprises. Supper dishes had been washed, dried, and put away. Now we were ready.
This evening was to be a holy night, and as we turned off the lights in the rest of the house, the blue lights on the Christmas tree created an aura of holiness to us.
The family, all five of us, gathered around the decorated tree: Mom in her rocking chair, Jinny Ree and I on the floor as close as we could get to the tree, and Sherwood and Daddy on the couch behind us. Sherwood, the oldest child, was chosen to read the story from Luke 2.
As he read, my imagination filled out the details of that well-known passage. Caesar did not hold much importance to me, except that he must have been a mean man to “decree” something (whatever that meant). Just sounded mean. And I did know a little about taxes since I heard my dad grumble about his taxes every year. Bethlehem. Now that was familiar. Every child knows what happened in Bethlehem that night. The young mother, a peaceful look on her beautiful face, is gazing lovingly at a manger with a baby in it. And somewhere in the background, a proud Joseph is standing.
Oh, and then the shepherds. How I would have loved to have been there with them on the hillside. I would have taken good care of my sheep; I might have been scared, though, to see an angel of the Lord. I probably would have run before I head the great message that Gabriel and his “heavenly host” had to bring. How wonderful that those shepherds did listen. What a beautiful scene it must have been to see them later, gathered in the manger with that tiny baby. Somehow, He was God. It would be a few years before I understood the significance of that story in my own life.
Sherwood stopped reading at the point where the shepherds left the manger and were “praising God for all that they had seen and heard.”
Now it was time for us to praise God for all that we had just heard. Mom would usually begin the first carol. We had sung as a family from the time we could talk. It seemed to be in our DNA. Daddy was a baritone and usually sang the melody, with Mom singing alto. When Sherwood and I sang the melody, Daddy would skip down to the tenor. My little sister, not able to carry a tune, yet, followed whomever she was sitting beside. Oh, how we loved to sing together. We grew up knowing how to fill in the harmony, and the carols we sang had incredible harmony potential.
We could have kept singing into the night if slight anxiety had not begun to stir within our breasts. Did you hear him? Surely, he would be coming soon, and we needed to be snug in our beds when he did.
Yes, we were of the generation when Santa and the Christ Child both fit quite comfortably into our Christmas festivities. Mom had read The Night Before Christmas to us from our births. We loved the old man. . . in a different way than we loved Jesus. But we loved him.
After setting out a plate of cookies for our night visitor, we scurried up to bed and pretended to fall asleep. Yes!!! We heard the prancing hooves on the roof . . . or was it against the side of the house? “Oh, close your eyes,” my sister and I told each other. “Don’t say a word or he will leave.”
Of course, Daddy and Mother were having fun downstairs placing packages under the blue-lit tree, filling the stockings, and making some noises like Santa may have caused.
Soon they, too, would be deep in sleep.
In the morning we would gobble a breakfast of eggs, toast, and a half of grapefruit sprinkled with red or green sugar. We could not dare go into the living room until the breakfast had been consumed, including every section of that tart grapefruit. Later, after the gifts had been opened, we would gather again at the dining table for a birthday cake for Jesus.
As I reflect on the syncretic aspect of our Christmases, I understand the rejection of the Santa Clause story. Perhaps, we could have done a little more investigation into the real Saint Nicholas as some have done today. He was a very good man and probably had no idea that he would become a distraction to the celebration of the Christ Child’s birth. He merely had given gifts to needy children. His generosity and love for God are the hallmarks of his life. Today, many celebrate his birthday, December 6, as the day to give gifts and honor the man, Saint Nicholas.