Those of us who are older bring to this season strong memories of Christmas Past—for most of us nothing to be afraid of…. The nostalgia that Christmas brings might be an especially fruitful place to visit alongside older friends and relatives. “How did you used to celebrate Christmas?” can call forth a wonderful array of customs and activities, each wrapped in fascinating stories that draw us closer to the older adults we love. In further conversation we can appreciate these elders at their best, giving them the gift of wondering admiration as well. (See tomorrow’s blog for more on this matter.)
If you asked me that question, you’d get the following story capsules, one older fellow’s recollections of Yuletide celebrations from decades past….
Our Christmases began with the nightly opening of Advent calendar windows. Family devotions included the lighting of our Advent wreath, a symbolic reminder of the spiritual foundations of Advent. Long before Christmas arrived, we were already immersed in emotions like repentance, wonder and a little bit of apprehension—“Christ is coming again soon, something truly mind-boggling …!”
On the first Sunday in December, we would attend the annual performance of Händel’s Messiah. The whole thing! The volunteer municipal choir and orchestra took us deep into the wonder of this composition, whose melodies and libretto are forever embedded in my soul! A favorite event: The tympanist waiting and waiting and waiting until the right moment to add his own accent to words like “Gloria” and “Hallelujah.”
Our Christmas celebration was spread over several days, and usually included members of our extended families. The center of the holiday was Christmas Eve, when we went to both the early and late church services. The second worship was bathed in the glow of mysterious quiet and restrained solemnity waiting to break out into joy. In between services my aunt put on a buffet full of wonderful dishes. All the family members were there, with dozens of cousins. Dressed in our Sunday best, we behaved at our Sunday best, reveling in the presence of family—including our beloved elders.
We waited until Christmas morning to open presents. My father had a penchant for enclosing his nicer gifts to us in common plastic garbage bags. This grew into a lasting tradition in which the worst-possible wrapping became the most-admired! Another gift tradition was regifting our father with one of his most-bedraggled clip-on bowties.
Our dogs were usually part of the gift-opening celebrations; part of the canine-entertainment was watching them open their own gifts. We would also festoon the dogs with the ribbons and bows of each present as it was opened.
When our family was finally alone, surrounded by gifts and garbage bags now filled with Christmas detritus, another set of emotions set in—probably cued by our parents’ reminder that this was a spiritual occasion. We looked at our gifts and wondered about other children in the world who received nothing. We thought about the wonder of having participated in rituals that had come to us from centuries past. Christmas was the point where our faith traditions were especially focused on real people—a Baby, Wise Men, shepherds, Jesus’ parents. Events back then had real meaning for our lives now. The emotions of the season burrowed into our beings—joy, gratitude, undeservedness, hope, and unity with the rest of the community of faith around the world.
I hope these thoughts take you back into what Christmas was (and is) for you. For now, a blessed Christmas to you and yours!
(To receive these entries as they are posted, go to the upper right hand corner of the top banner and click on the three parallel lines or three dots. Scroll down to the form and enter your information.)