In yesterday’s entry I shared some of my memories of childhood Christmas celebrations and traditions. Today I’d like to think alongside you about engaging in similar recollections with your beloved elders—one way to bring them the gift of your presence!
As I was assembling yesterday’s thoughts, I started to wonder how you and I could engage our beloved elders in satisfying conversations about their Yuletide memories. Based on past and current experiences, I think this could be an enjoyable time!
I’ve certainly enjoyed pleasant story-telling about Christmases past, but I’ve also tried to go beyond interesting chit-chat that calls up enjoyable memories. These conversations have given me the chance to learn more about a beloved older person. (For example, I learned that in the past children received a perfectly-ripe orange as a Sunday School gift—for which they were very grateful!) As we’ve reminisced about Christmas, I’ve come to appreciate what lies under the observances—what good came of it all, who was honored, what continues to this day. Peeling back the layers of meaning, I’ve found nuggets of faith or spiritual wisdom that still fuel the spirit of an older friend or relative. (One of my older friends remembered attending an annual Bach Advent cantata, with its attendant wealth of spiritual content.)
I’ve realized over the years that it’s best if this sharing is a conversation, not an interview or one-sided story-telling. I can be an appreciative listener, sure, but have also added my own observations and admiration about the older person’s recollections. And I’ve enjoyed recalling old customs that we had in common.
During a few of these visits, it occurred to me that I was close to turning our memory-fest into a sad experience, inadvertently comparing the joys of Christmases past with perhaps sparse or minimal celebrations in these times. Not helpful! It made sense to supplement this memory-sharing time with other enjoyable experiences. (See later for some ideas….)
How have I started these conversations? Directly—as in “I’m really interested in how you used to celebrate Christmas!” As a conversation wound its way through delightful memories, I reflected on what I heard, asking clarifying or follow-up questions. When I’ve known the older adult well, I’ve explored more personal matters. For example, the meaning of Christmas (back then and now), the effects of Christmas celebrations on the elder or what he or she most cherishes about the season. I’ve listened for feelings, the strength of memories and spiritual or religious undertones. In a few cases, it felt to me that the older person wanted to help me not ever forget what is important about these festive times—the joy of giving, the strength of family bonds, getting over sadnesses and absences, remembering those who are poor.
One unforgettable tradition that my spouse and I shared with a small group who also loved and admired the same elderly friend: Putting together a small Christmas party at her assisted living facility. We sang carols together, read or recalled Christmas stories, talked about old friends and admired current Christmas cards and newsletters our elderly friend had received. We prepared special Christmas food, took group photos and prayed joyfully.
As I think about what else might add to an “older Christmas”, these additional possibilities come to mind: Bringing along a very young member of family; conducting the conversations in a special place; recording or filming the conversation for posterity; phoning or Skyping together another fondly remembered person; watching a Christmas special on television or attending a worship service together.
Perhaps these remembered experiences will help you and your beloved elder deepen your admiration for each other’s lives. Christmas celebration memories can stand as a prime example of how blessed you are to know and love each other.
Again, a blessed Christmas to you and those who you care for!
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