One Christmas tree was a given in my childhood. It was a small, white tabletop tree that my grandmother would put on top of her grand piano each year. By the time all of the aunts and uncles and cousins were at her house there would be a pile of presents covering the piano and the floor around it. We did things a little differently than most families. Instead of getting up first thing in the morning and diving in, we would wait until we’d had our Christmas dinner and all the dishes were done and then one person would be chosen to hand out gifts one at a time. We would all watch the person open their gift and deliver the appropriate oohs and ahhs and the gift would be passed around for everyone to look at while the next person received a gift.
As a child it was often agonizing to wait for a gift, but it definitely taught me patience and allowed me to learn that Christmas was not primarily about me getting everything I wanted. I’m very thankful for that.
In the earliest years of our marriage, Keith and I always got a live tree. Sometimes it came from the Optimist Club lot and sometimes we went hiking through the woods to find one. For a while there was a Christmas tree farm about 20 miles from Monticello and we bought one there a few times. It was fun to watch them put it through the shaker and watch all the loose needles come off.
A few years ago Keith’s allergies got the best of him and we had to make the transition to an artificial tree. It doesn’t smell as good, but it’s easier for everyone and these days, easy is good.
Ziggy has been on every one of our trees. I gave it to Keith at a Regina Christmas party the Christmas before we got married. The first few years, he substituted for a star or angel on top, but now he’s just part of the ornaments we’ve collected over the years.
I have several of these little guys. They open up in the middle and my grandmother used to put money inside of them for the great-grandchildren. When she passed away there were several unused boxes of them left so I brought them home to add to my tree. I like having ornaments that mean something.
I grew up surrounded by the education world and was about ten years old before I found out that most people actually worked all summer and did not get a nice, long break at Christmas. Even during my stay-at-home mom days, it was hard for me to feel like Christmas was coming because Christmas was supposed to mean a drastic change in the daily routine. As any fulltime mom knows, that doesn’t really ever happen. Even when you go on vacation, your children are with you and, therefore, your job is with you.
Returning to the work and school world about five years ago was a very hard thing to do. I loved being a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom, but the time had come to do other things. I have to admit that I love school; I’ve often said that it’s where I feel like a fish in the water. Working in higher education means that I also love my job. If I can’t be at home, then I’m exactly where I want to be.
But it’s nice to have a break.
It’s great to have a few weeks where all of that just stops. No more projects for grad school, no more decisions about weeding books, no more classes to meet with or presentations to plan.
A house, kids, home projects, music all over the place, and lots of reading. LOTS of reading.
As much as I love my job and love being a student, it’s wonderful to have a break and focus on these people for a while. They’re definitely worth it.
This is a list that might never end so I will not begin a list. Instead I’ll just share a few of my favorites.
Harry Connick Jr’s When My Heart Finds Christmas is a collection that’s been a part of our family for YEARS. We wore out two cassette tapes of it before purchasing a cd a few years ago. I think we may need to replace the cd this year because we listen to it so much. It’s a great mixture of fun and beauty and Santa and Jesus with a great musical combination of jazz and blues and downright gorgeous. If you haven’t ever heard it, go find it. Here’s a sample, but you need to hear the whole thing.
Years ago I decided that my children needed to be culturally literate and that mean being more than familiar with Handel’s Messiah. Although the Hallelujah chorus is probably the best known portion of it, “Worthy is the Lamb,” followed by the Amen chorus is my favorite part of the piece. We listen to Messiah all the way through at least once every Christmas season. “Worthy” and “Amen” are not merely beautiful pieces of music; they are transcendent, capable of giving you an experience that mirrors the music of Heaven. I love to stand in the middle of a room and just let the music wash over me. Tradition says that Handel spent so much time in the Biblical text that he began having visions of angels and that they delivered the music to him.
Recently I discovered “All is Well,” a piece written by Michael W Smith about ten years ago. It is breathtakingly beautiful. At first I thought it was an old English Christmas hymn that I wasn’t familiar with. Then I read an interview with Smitty that asked, “What’s the best song you’ve ever written?” His answer? “All is well.” I’ve heard it sung by choirs, by Heather Payne of Point of Grace, and by Clay Aiken and it’s always beautiful. This year, I’ll be singing in a small choir at the Downtown church’s Christmas Eve service and we’ll be singing “All is Well.” I’ve wanted to sing it with a group since I discovered it. God answers prayers.
Be sure to take time this year to really listen to the beauty that surrounds us. It isn’t only the words, but also the music itself that allows us to communicate with God in a way that words cannot. As much as I love words, they have limits. Music conveys emotions that words cannot touch.
With thanks to Monte Python for such a versatile line!
Although I enjoy a cup of coffee as much as the next person, hot chocolate will always have a special place in my life. Hot chocolate reminds me of childhood. Football games with hot chocolate so hot you have to wait to drink it. Long walks in the occasionally icy, snowy Arkansas weather, followed by a warm cup of chocolate on the return home.
Now that I think of it, I believe I prefer hot chocolate to coffee. These days, life is stressful and there’s something about that warm rich liquid that is calming. I can feel the tension easing from neck and shoulders; it offers an invitation to kick off shoes and sit back for a while. Coffee urges me on to the next thing. Be awake, be alert, be productive. Hot chocolate encourages me to enjoy where I am and what I have at the moment.
Hot chocolate is definitely one of my favorite things about December.
Here’s a quick list of things I LOVE about December. I’ll come back and write an entry about each one to give more details, but for now here’s the list.
1. Hot chocolate
2. Christmas music
3. Time off from work and school
4. Christmas trees
6. Harding’s jazz band playing Christmas music in chapel
7. Spending time with my sister
8. Christmas lights on houses and trees
9. Good movies with friends
10. Our family’s annual Lord of the Rings marathon
I don’t know if I’ve ever gushed about CS Lewis and The Chronicles of Narnia or not, but you need to know that they are some of my favorite books EVER. The first time I saw an ad for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, I cried. We don’t even want to talk about what it was like in the actual movie.
So get ready. Next May we get to go back.
How cool is that?
Well, better late than never. The last few weeks have been crazy busy with school and work and life. How great is it that we get to go from a season of Thanksgiving to a season of focusing on Jesus and what he has done for us? Absolutely amazing.
Here’s one of my favorite less-known Christmas songs. Enjoy! Embedding was disabled so you’ll have to hit the link.
‘Tis the season!