Posted on December 19th, 2003
He lounged on the living room sofa, surveying the surroundings. ‘Tis a cozy little space, he mused, the ambiance heightened by simple, yet striking decorations his resourceful wife had arranged around the room. White lights gave off a healthy glow at each window. A wreath with pine cones and bright red bow greets visitors at the front door.
The Scotch pine Christmas tree looked especially spruced up this year, he mused. For one of the first times in many years, the usually sorry sapling stood erect, once positioned. The next day, it didn’t lean to one side as its predecessors were wont to do, and, wonder of wonders, the strings of lights all remained lit even after arranged on the tree.
The decorations, largely an eclectic assortment of ornaments either purchased, given as gifts or fashioned by hand by his daughters, providing a family history at a glance.
Under the evergreen rests a modest pile of hand-wrapped gifts to be opened Christmas Eve. He speculates on the contents, but is content to wait until the appointed hour. Not a bad wrapping job on those he attempted, he thinks, while acknowledging never having quite mastered how to gift-wrap any size container without using either too much or too little paper and leaving various wrinkles and crinkles around the edges.
One tradition, started years ago, continues. The tag on every gift to family members won’t bear their name but rather a descriptive phrase: “To the daughter who drank from a top-cup” . . . “to my Longbranch Hustler from yer Dancin’ Cowboy . . ., ” “To Rammy from Dad,” and each recipient will know exactly what is meant.
Music on the stereo fills the air – tunes from days of yore that are rarely heard on commercial radio – conjuring images of family Christmases past.
Back then, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s rendition of “Lo, How a Rose ‘er Blooming” was the signal to the siblings to half tumble down the steps on Christmas morning to cast excited gazes under the lighted tree. There would be no ripping into packages, the Mother insists, but rather, one gift at a time would be opened before it was the next person’s turn, one way of savoring the magical moments that would pass all too quickly.
From the kitchen wafts an aroma of freshly-baked cookies. The iced pecan kind his spouse just made reminds him of his father – these were his favorite. The dad is no longer around in body, but remains alive in spirit, and his famous phrases and legacy will be remembered and celebrated in these next days.
A lighted nativity scene arranged on a table – a miniature stable with ceramic figurines and assorted barnyard animals – is the same one his parents had purchased their first year of marriage in 1942. It’s his inheritance; the family memories triggered by the pastoral scene have priority over any monetary value it may have, if any.
He remembers that an annual special event in his neighborhood will take place before the weekend ends – the Belmont Estates subdivision luminary display will start at nightfall, weather permitting, on Sunday, Dec. 21. Motorists can enter the subdivision from Rt. 33 west or from Erikson Avenue and drive slowly through the candle-lined thoroughfares, allowing the glow of thousands of candles to warm and brighten the silent night, holy night. What a way to glow.
He opens the biblical text and read the first chapter of the New Testament book of Luke. He is struck by the heightened emotions of the characters who played such pivotal roles in events leading up to the birth of the Christ Child – Elizabeth and Zechariah, parents-to-be of John the Baptist; and Mary, Elizabeth’s cousin; and Joseph, Mary’s fiance.
In each case, surprise, shock, even disbelief in response to heavenly messages gave way to eloquent statements of faith and exceeding joy when the prophetic pronouncements were fulfilled.
Christmas is a-comin’, and after all these years, the yuletide observer is still anxious, excited as a youngster with a season pass to a theme park, but able to bide his time, because he is fortunate to have loved ones and extended family to help commemorate and stretch this day of days.
The larger world, alas, has difficulty proclaiming, “All is calm, all is bright,” for the message of the season, peace on Earth, good will to humankind, has yet to sink in. But here, in the living room of a bungalow in this little town of Belmont, this celebrant recounts numerous reasons to sing enthusiastically, “Joy to the world, the Lord has come.” He prays that many others in numerous places will echo this sentiment and strive to live out its meaning.
Here’s a toast to Christmas, he says aloud, and God bless us, everyone.
Jim Bishop is public information officer at Eastern Mennonite University.