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Christmas Memories Old and New

Daniel: “Grandpa, it’s raining!”

Me: “Is water falling from the sky?”

Daniel: “No, Grandpa! It’s raining!”

The only thing more refreshing than a few days off after over a month on the road, is a few days off in the company my grandson, Young Master Daniel, during the Christmas Season. Setting out with my daughter and Daniel, we ventured into a few stores yesterday before watching the hustle and madness from the comfort of a restaurant. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a child’s eyes light up with as much pure wonder before. Oh, I’m sure other children are just as wide-eyed and fun. On second thought… But the marvel and fascination of a child’s attention will manifest itself in the most amazing reality this side of Mother Goose. Water doesn’t fall from the sky, Grandpa,… it’s just raining!

There was a little red haired, freckle-faced girl that lived down the street from us in Baton Rouge. We were both in first grade, and though I knew she was a celebrity, I didn’t let the other children in on the secret. She was cute in a homely kind of way, with big blue eyes, and bucked teeth that resembled the goal posts in Tiger Stadium. Christmas was her season though, because everyone sang songs about her. I knew this because her name was Holly, and every year people sang about having to haul her out, and decking the halls with her bowels. It seemed an awful lot of trouble to go through to celebrate Christmas, even for this little six-year-old. But she dutifully reported for class after Christmas break looking none the worse for the trauma, and said not a word to anyone about it. I didn’t bring it up either. Probably too traumatic for her to talk about. But the following year, the process would repeat itself, and she shouldered the burden with remarkable grace. I couldn’t have managed it. I couldn’t even stand booster shots.

IMAG0778.jpgLast night, Daniel, my daughter, son-in-law, and I traveled to see a remarkable Christmas musical presentation. It featured a choir of over 100 hundred people lifting their voices in full and joyous celebration. Little Daniel was spellbound at the pageantry, the banners, and the rich, all-encompassing voices in song. I couldn’t help but wonder what impressions were being made behind those curious eyes as he sat enrapt at the spectacle. What did he think when the little girls in white robes ran to the front of the auditorium to play the role of angels welcoming the newborn King to earth? He noticed right away that the Baby Jesus was a real baby. He listened as a congregation of several hundred joined with the choir in old and venerable Christmas Carols (I went to school with Carol too, but she was a great deal more of a contrarian than Holly, and with less reason since it wasn’t her innards that decked the halls).

There was a crown of thorns resting atop a cross just off stage left, and I wondered if they were going to re-enact the entire life of Christ. But at prescribed point in the program, a large, burly gentleman wearing a utility belt and a baseball cap, stood up and walked toward that cross. He was carrying a box wrapped in Christmas paper, which he placed at the foot of cross. Then, removing his cap, he knelt at the cross for a moment before taking a smaller cross in his hands and taking his place in front of the young child that represented the baby Jesus. Then, another man, this one in a suit, followed in the same fashion, presenting his gift, kneeling at the cross before taking his own cross and standing next to the first gentleman. Next came a doctor, with white jacket and stethoscope, to kneel before the cross and then stand with Jesus. Then came a farmer, and on the procession went as the choir’s voices rose, and I realized I was holding my breath, so captivated was I by the poignancy of the moment.

I realize that I’ve gotten this far in the tale without remembering to mention that my Dad was in the choir as well. A retired minister of music, Dad had only to hear this choir once to know that he wanted to be a part of it. Some readers may recall that it was a year ago that Dad was given the official diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. This diagnosis prompted the choir director to give special dispensation for Dad to use sheet music during the performance, while everyone else was required to memorize the cantata. Stubbornness being a family trait, however, Dad was having none of it and insisted on memorizing the cantata like everyone else, Alzheimer’s or not. Deciding that Alzheimer’s would have to work extra hard to rob him of his faculties, Dad sang through the music at least half a dozen times each day. And he pulled it off without a hitch last night, telling us afterward that this was harder to memorize than his studies in seminary had been. But he did it, and went on to make three other generations of our family laugh with delight late into the evening.

These are the sorts of memories that little Daniel will carry with him long after we’re gone. Memories of a family that loves him more dearly than life, and a heritage of embracing life with a smile and a steadfast faith in the One whose birth and life we celebrate. Perhaps one day I’ll tell him of the Christmas celebrities I knew as a child, but for now, it’s his turn to create and spin his own stories, limited only by his never-ending and wondrous imagination. But I do wonder how Holly is getting along these days.