So many thoughts fill my mind today and have for the past several weeks too as we began the serious business of celebrating this beautiful event.
And, it should be remembered this was an EVENT that changed the world which eventually led to a holiday celebration in honor of that special EVENT! Christmas is about a GIFT, given freely to all of us. The Three Wise Men were the first to honor that event by bringing gifts to the Babe of Bethlehem.
Over the years, people began to use symbols to serve as reminders of this Event. Gift giving led to St. Nicholas and other names for this old soul who gave from his heart. Kris Kringle, Santa Claus, come to mind there. How the North Pole and elves became part of that story, I don't know but that aspect is the mythical side.
Candles to remember this Event signals the Light of the World come to earth. Christmas Trees - evergreens that keep their color -their life, as it were - pointing to the heavens. To decorate a tree gives further remembrance of the beauty of life, the glory of the special Event we are supposed to remember and to honor.
Wreaths - a circle symbolizing continuity, everylasting life. Special foods also often have a symbolic tracing back to various ways specific cultures have chosen to remember this special Event. Those foods, changing as they have over the centuries since the arrival of the Christ Child, have become traditions that may seem different on the surface from one ethnic group or culture to the next but under the surface, there are often many similarities. Each country and language may call Christmas a different name, but that doesn't make it a different occasion - just a difference in language. Joyeaux Noel, God Jul, Wigila, Feliz Navidad - to name a couple may sound different but they are all representative of a particular culture's celebration of the Coming of the King.
So many things that are continued year after year within family groups, communities, churches and yet, how often do we realize how significant these are to us - or should be?
As a child, I was taught about the Birth of Christ, learned many, many Christmas carols that I remember to this day, some of which I can still remember the words to all the verses. I learned about Santa Claus too - and the practice of giving and receiving gifts. Although I was taught the significance of this process, the true meaning probably didn't become part of my inner self until I was well into my adulthood. Although I do try to practice the teachings of Christ, belong to a church, frequently over the years I have forgotten the true meaning behind this celebration and been as caught up as the next person to the fullest extent my budget could possibly allow. And, in doing so, I may have thought I was celebrating this wonderful Event but in essence, I allowed the commercialization take hold of me.
As a child, part of our celebration included my cousins and I gathering around the piano with my Mom playing various Christmas Carols and we children, along with most of my aunts, uncles and grandparents, sang the old songs in English and a few of my Grandfather's favorite Swedish hymns and carols. It was my Grandmother's intent to try to instill in us a realization of what this day really should mean to each of us. It's taken many years though for much of what she understood as being special to come home to take seed again in my heart.
I've had several Christmases over the years where affording much to give as gifts to my family has been very difficult and often created an accompanying depression prior to Christmas and lasting often for a long time after too. This year was one of those years when finances were very tight and few gifts were exchanged because all three of my children and I just couldn't go out and buy toys or clothes that were not really necessities. Food - something one has to have - became the main gift. I baked cookies, bread, cooked a huge dinner to enjoy with my children and grandchildren. I tried to plan to make up small packets of cookies and bread to give to special friends who, because they are alone and perhaps are unable to do the work that comes from the extra baking and/or cooking involved, would enjoy having a little special treat as a reminder of the greatest gift of all given to us.
Yes, it was a joy to watch my grandchildren last night rip into brightly wrapped packages and toss the booty into a pile, looking for yet another package that perhaps would contain the big surprise and special gift that person had secretly wanted. The two little ones are too small to understand any of the symbolism of the gifts. Apparently the items received by some of the grandkids didn't fulfill their wildest dreams, their expectations and their disappointment showed in the lack of even saying a simple thank you for receiving anything at all. All, that is except for my children who knew all too well this year that the gifts they received were things they could use, needed and each appropriately gave thanks to the giver. My grandson Alex came and hugged me, made a specific move to thank me for the books I had found for him. I doubt the other three even know what they received much less who gave it to them either - they were too busy looking for more!
I received a pretty little candle - in a tiny flower pot with "Grandma" written on it and a little saying under that saying "God couldn't be everywhere, so he created Grandmas." Now, we know -if we believe in Him that he is Everywhere, but it's a nice thought that gives much more credit than I certainly am due! I received a book by a favorite author, a desk calendar with "Bushisims" - those wildly funny misstatements made frequently by our current president - not, I might add a person who finds much favor from me! And I also received a special framed 8x10 photo of my baby grandson, Kurtis, which was very much a surprise because although I was present the day the children's special Christmas pictures were taken, I had never seen this particular proof and it is an absolutely beautiful picture of my special little prince, looking his absolute most charming with a smile that seems not to end! Special gifts to me that I can and will appreciate each time I see, touch, feel the love that went into the gift. Oh, and I also received a dvd/video tape player to replace the ones (two separate entities that neither any longer works with reliability) so it will be nice to have something available to use to watch videos/dvds or the home movies my daughter has taken over the past 2-3 years of special celebrations within my family.
My daughter, the baby - Kurtis - and my grandson, Alex and I all went to the 9 p.m. Candlelighting service at church. As always happens with the opening of the service as the choir sings -again - the hymn in Swedish which has become a standard for our church "Lyssna, lyssna, Har du Anglens sangen." (Listen, listen, hear the angels song), and it takes me back in time where, in my mind I hear my Grandfather's beautiful bass voice as he would sing that old favorite carol which must have held many, many special memories for him then as it does for me today.
But, it was watching my grandson trying to follow along with the service by reading the bulletin, following the special readings from the Bible about the Christmas Story beginning with the excerpts of Isiah in which the birth or coming of the Savior is foretold. Seeing him decide to participate when the Pastor gave his children's sermon and invited the chldren to come forward to the altar as he gave a simplified explanation of various parts of the Christmas Story. And, watching Alex as he went forward with his aunt and me to receive communion and he and his little baby cousin Kurtis each received a words of blessing from the pastor.
But for me, the best Christmas gift of all I received this year was when we returned home after church and Alex told his mother he wants to begin attending Sunday School, Church and especially that he wants to take part in the special instruction classes that will allow him to participate fully in the rite of taking Communion too! My daughter asked me this morning if perhaps her sister or I had said something to him about this and that maybe was why he had that in mind when he told his mother of his wishes, but as I explaied to her, that was not the case. He had decided this of his own volition and it was something that indeed made me very happy to hear him make this request.
Something, somewhere along the way, moved quietly into him, into his thoughts, his acceptance of the authority of a much Higher Power's existence and wanting that to become a part of his life.
Amd that, combined with having my family around me once again, made this truly a beautiful and most wonderful Christmas.