Growing up on a dairy farm in South Georgia, the days followed a strict routine—the cows waited at the barn door at four-thirty in the morning and twelve hours later, they congregated again, mooing to be milked. Those bovines didn’t take the day off and neither did their owners. Christmas meant a special meal, a gift or two, the Christmas story from Luke and a few decorations. Our scraggly pine tree cut from the woods more resembled the one owned by Charlie Brown.
When I married my Charlie and moved to the suburbs of Washington DC, I felt I’d landed on another planet. After our first Thanksgiving when the stores and streets screamed Christmas, my husband informed me that “Santa” didn’t decorate the tree until Christmas Eve. Huh?
With my obvious inexperience, I willingly followed my new family’s tradition. Our first Christmas Eve my husband dragged me to almost every tree lot in Arlington searching for the perfect tree. By then, few trees remained and the attendants were anxious to go home to their families. While lugging our purchase up the two flights of steps to our small apartment, Charlie boasted of finding perfection at half the price.
Boxes of brand-new ornaments and silver icicles were carefully opened, along with a majestic angel to grace the tree top. (Saving the original boxes seemed important to my organized husband.) Several hours later with every decoration in place (Some were moved several times to vary the color scheme.), I stood back and admired our handiwork. The tree groaned under the weight of our new ornaments and presents were stacked high beneath the branches. Around two o’clock in the morning of our second Christmas together, Charlie took a picture of his very pregnant wife hanging the last ornament on our tree. My smile for the camera didn’t quite camouflage the exhaustion. Where was Santa when I needed him?
The days between Christmas and New Years involved visits from the family–siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins. Their visits meant that we were obligated to return the visit and view their decorated house along with every present they received for Christmas. I remember an uncle of Charlie’s laughing about his initiation into the Renalds’ family traditions when he tried to put his presents away before they were viewed by the extended family.
Somewhere in the first decade of our fifty-four years of marriage, I convinced my husband to drop the tradition of waiting for “Santa.” We now begin decorating soon after the left-overs reach the refrigerator on Thanksgiving Day. The smell of pine is a distant memory as our artificial tree stands proudly in the foyer, every stem bearing an ornament, ribbon, bird, fruit or a snowflake. The tree is still stacked with gifts but most are for our six grandchildren. No cows are bawling to be milked and there is extravagance that I only imagined. Sadly, the tradition of visiting each other’s homes has gradually faded with the loss of the older generation.
Though the way I celebrate Christmas has changed considerably from those first few years on the farm, the significance of the day remains the same. The Christ-Child was welcomed on that first Christmas with the sounds of cattle, sheep and donkeys—a modest celebration for a King. But his coming paved the way for peace and love in a world of confusion and chaos. The manger was only the beginning. He became the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. His death and resurrection demonstrated God’s incredible love for all. His Spirit within us provides the grace needed to love as He loves—even those with different political views, cultures or faith. Do you have room in your heart for the Christ-child this year? Allow Him to love others through you.
From our family to yours, have a blessed Christmas!