"We're all just fragile threads, but what a tapestry we make." – Jerry Ellis

Archive for the ‘Christmas’ Category

My Epiphany on Old Christmas

twelve drummers drumming

If we were living out The Twelve Days of Christmas song, today I would receive the twelve drummers drumming. Since I’m not very far into the new year of organizing my house, I’m not sure where all the people and critters from the song would be stowed away, but it would be a houseful!

Today is Epiphany—traditionally celebrated as the day the Three Wise Men came to see Baby Jesus after the following the star—hence the twelve days of Christmas. Modern Biblical scholars can’t agree on when exactly it was the three made their visit—some say he wasn’t a newborn at all when they saw him, and the twelve days came from something somebody made up. Today’s secular society doesn’t really believe in dragging out the holiday season beyond the post-Christmas sales. Once evening rolls around on December 25th, the radio stations who have been playing only Christmas songs since November 1 abruptly go back to regular programming without much fanfare. I think that’s why I like Christmas Eve better than actual Christmas Day. Because on Christmas Day all the anticipation is behind us and it’s all over. It always makes me a little sad when things are over.

When I was growing up, my Grandpa Long’s birthday, on January 6th (Old Christmas), marked the end of the holidays for us. Maybe it was a little too much family togetherness, but I liked how we “eased” out of the holidays. We kept the Christmas tree up until then, and there wasn’t such a rush to return to the “normalcy” as soon as the clock struck midnight marking the start of a new year. While I love eating and drinking too much and staying up too late over the two weeks of Christmas, as an adult I appreciate the return to schedules and routines. I like buckling down in the New Year and thinking fresh. But still, the idea of a whole twelve days of celebrating Christmas sounds like fun—even if there’s not enough room for those lords a leaping or ladies dancing!

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Oh Christmas Tree, How Lovely (and FEW) Are Thy Branches

Today’s post is another story by my dad from when he was a teen. I wish you could see his face and hear him chuckle as he tells it in person. When I was growing up, I always begged my parents to put up the Christmas tree in early December (Christmas stuff in November was unheard of)! Today, when the Christmas season starts the day after Halloween, it seems unusual to wait to decorate for Christmas the week before, doesn’t it? He used to tell us this story about the year Grandpa tried to get a cheap tree from the grocer.

 The Magic Christmas Tree

A story from his youth, as recalled by Dad Christmas 2007

It was a Saturday morning in December when I was awakened by the noise of an argument. It was between Mom and Dad. Dad got a free Christmas tree from Kroger’s, a local grocery store. Dad bought several fruit baskets for his business customers and as a reward, Dad got a Christmas tree of his choice. Apparently Dad’s choice wasn’t very good because Mom was quite perturbed. Then I heard Mom’s voice call out”Paullll!” I thought I was in deep trouble and I wasn’t even out of bed yet. So I answered, “I will be down in just a minute as soon as I’m dressed.”

They both met me in the kitchen. Dad emphatically stated that by hook or crook, he wanted the Christmas tree put up by the end of the day. Mom nodded in silent agreement.

Meanwhile, my two younger brothers whom I shall call Ra and Ru got up. They heard the commotion too but played dumb. So we three had a hardy breakfast and proceeded to get to work. The tree was to be put outside the house facing the rear picture window of the sunken living room. The patio had a see-through corrugated roof. Ra and Ru and I struggled with “Dad’s prize tree” to get it into place on the patio, when disaster struck. The tree snapped in two. Ra and Ru looked at me in horror and said in unison, “Now what are we going to do?” Dad answered in a heartbeat because he was checking up on our progress. “You’re going to get a hammer and nails and nail it back together and if that doesn’t work, you’re going to wire it together. And another thing—that tree better be put up and decorated by this evening or there’s going to be hell to pay!” With that said, Dad got into his car and drove off. He had a doctor’s appointment.

Mom, meanwhile heard Dad’s harsh pronouncement and laughed. She said, “I never did like that tree,” and went back in the house. So Ra and Ru and I struggled to get the tree to the garage and proceeded to try and nail and wire it back together. Brother Ra, who was the practical one, shook his head and said, “It ain’t going to work.”

We stood the tree up and it broke in two again. Brother Ru, seeing the hopelessness of our situation, proceeded to go into the house and tell Mom of our plight. Mom came out and looked at the “bedraggled tree” and again laughed. My brothers and I didn’t think it was funny. Mom ordered us into the house. She went to her purse and handed me a twenty dollar bill. “Now,” she said, “there is a fruit market down the road and I’ve heard they have some very nice trees. Get one!”

We were in luck, Dad took the nice family car and left the 1954 Ford Station Wagon, with a rack on top. I always looked forward to driving (I just got my license that summer). We proceeded on our quest for a tree. Ra and Ru and I were a team. I drove, Ru picked out the tree and Ra made sure we didn’t pay too much for it. After some minor haggling, we got what was the “perfect tree”, even by today’s standards. I forgot what we paid for it, but it was within the limits of the twenty-dollar bill Mom gave us.

Mom was standing outside, waiting for our return and was to see “our prize” tree. “Hurry,” she said, “get it down so I can see it.” We unfurled the tree from the roof of the station wagon. Mom’s proud comment was “I have three sons that know how to pick out a Christmas tree.” We all proceeded to do our thing, set up and decorate our “perfect” tree.

Meanwhile, Dad returned from his doctor’s appointment. “Where are the boys?” he asked of Mom. Mom replied, “They are decorating the Christmas tree and you leave them alone.” Mom asked Dad, “By the way, how did your doctor’s appointment go?” Dad replied that doctor said his weight was the same, but his blood pressure was high.

Mom stalled Dad off until nightfall. We had a pleasant evening meal. Dad was anxious to see what we got out of chaos. The big moment finally came, Mom turned on the switch and “Voila!” a lighted Christmas tree. Dad was even amazed and said, “I sure know how to pick ‘em, don’t I?” Mom rolled her eyes and said under her breath, “There are some battles you can’t win.” Dad never did find out that his “prized tree” was replaced; in fact we made a wreath out of part of it for the front door.

A day or two later we had a calm, quiet Merry Christmas.

“Perfect” Balance

It’s time for the holidays, a time of year that I both love and dread at the same time. I cherish my memories of cozy Christmases past and creating new memories with my family. I love the smells of Christmas and the excitement of the kids. I dread the hectic schedules, the feeling that there’s too much to do and the worry over buying loved ones that “perfect” gift. Such is Christmas in this modern world; no time left to reflect on the miracle of the birth of our Savior—I’ve got baking and shopping to do! Boy, am I ever guilty! While I don’t lack of a plan, I lack a mindset. The mindset of balance, moderation and contentedness.

In the book of Ecclesiates, “The Teacher” laments about the meaninglessness of life. If you’re experiencing a rough time in your life, it’s not going to be a pick-me-up to read, but it reads as if it could have been written in today’s world. The Teacher was wealthy and popular—and very unhappy. He feels that there is nothing in this world that has any meaning. His luxurious lifestyle has left him in despair. But he does make observations that are true, and you can certainly have empathy for the emptiness the guy goes through. One of the observations that he makes that I’d like to share with you is in 7:15-18, where he addresses balance in being both overwicked and overrighteous. His observation? “The man who fears God will avoid all extremes.”

I wanted to find other examples where the concept of balance is put in a Biblical perspective. It overlaps with the areas of temperance (moderation) and self-control, but those passages didn’t address the times when balance is thrown off. The more I thought about it, the underlying cause of imbalance is a dissatisfaction of what we have and who we are. We are not content with where we are and what we have. Isn’t that when we try too much, and in the process reach too far? When we are trying to create the “perfect” Christmas, it is easy to move too far from Christ, who should be the center of the holiday.   If I had more time/money/creativity, Christmas would be perfect. Spreading ourselves too thin, we are out of balance, discontent, stressed and generally not enjoying the Spirit of the Season.

If that’s not you, I am happy for you. Because you have learned to be content. And there are several verses that advise us on being content. Hebrews 13:5 says “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have…” And Paul tells Timothy in 1 Timothy 6:6-8 “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” I’m ashamed to admit it, but this time of year, I need to be reminded of that.

As we head full throttle into the Christmas season, remember how the extremes in the life of The Teacher didn’t bring him joy “under the sun”. Being content can be hard when we are bombarded daily with reminders of what we don’t have. It’s something we have to remind ourselves of. But we have something that The Teacher in Ecclesiastes didn’t have. We have, in the baby Jesus born in the manger, the antidote to that meaninglessness he described. The joy that can only be found “under the Son”.

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