Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Christmas Does Not Come in a Box

Remember Dr. Seuss’ story of the Grinch that stole Christmas? Or tried to. The Grinch hated Christmas and hoped to find a way to keep Christmas from coming to his town. Christmas Eve when everyone was asleep, he decided to sneak into the houses in his village. He would steal all the presents, the goodies, the Christmas trees and even the logs in the fireplaces. The Grinch thought this would solve the Christmas problem. But Christmas morning when the town woke up the Grinch was dumbfounded. Despite all his hard work, he heard singing and laughter coming from house after house. And the Grinch learned a powerful lesson: Christmas does not come in a box.

The reason? No box is ever big enough to hold the real Christmas. Think back on the Christmases you remember. Those memories have little to do with Santa Claus or presents or decorations. If we recall our fondest Christmases; they never came wrapped in paper and tied with a ribbon . Our little four room house across from the mill Christmas came year after year despite whatever was going on in the world. Sometimes it was the war. Often money was tight. Some years there was grief and disappointment. Other years we had much to celebrate

But year after year we started early in December at the Hardware store where we bought little cans of gold and silver paint. We cut limbs with berries and greenery off the bushes. We sprayed them silver and gold. When they were dry we covered our mantles and made some kind of arrangement on the kitchen table. Next came the cakes. Our little kitchen was weighed down with flour and real coconuts and raisins and spices and vanilla flavoring and lots of eggs and a heaping mound of butter. Our maid, Nancy  was instructed to go the liquor store after dark and furtively get the whiskey for the Fruitcakes. We shelled pecans all week long. We used a hammer to break open the coconuts. By Christmas day every spare surface would be covered with enough sweets to send anyone into a diabetic coma.

We always had a live Christmas tree that stretched all the way to the top of our little ceiling. My father chopped and hacked away at the base until it was finally ready for the living room. Next came the big colored lights, the ornaments. We whipped up Lux flakes in the kitchen and loaded the branches down with make-believe snow. Icicles covered the tree and the floor, too.

Our Church up the street opened its doors every Friday just before Christmas. And every year all the mill children would gather in the sanctuary to wait breathlessly for Santa Claus to walk down the aisle of the church. The man in the red suit and the fake beard always brought a box of oranges, apples, nuts and a little candy for every child present. As we sat there holding our boxes, the Preacher would open the big black book and read the old story: “And there was in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.” And we would hear, as if for the first time the tale of a tired mother and a frightened father and a mean old innkeeper. And at the center of it all was a baby—a wonderful baby. When the reading was finished, someone would move to the piano and we would all sing: “Silent Night” and a hush would settle over us all.

Christmas day after the presents were opened and we grew bored; the best part of the day lay before us. We sat down to Christmas dinner. Always there were two hams: a cured and a fresh ham, a huge fat hen and dressing and cranberry sauce. There were vegetables that had been canned the summer before. My Mother carefully took out of our kitchen cabinet the best dishes reserved for such a day as this. And around that old table, with the silver and gold centerpiece was my family: Mama, Daddy and my redheaded brother.

Christmas did not come in a box. It came much like that first Christmas. Despite the odds there was a mother and a father and a child and wonder and love and hope and joy always. Someone called Christmas the glorious impossible. And this we take with us throughout the year. This we hold on to for the rest of our lives.

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