Thursday, December 17, 2009
The Preacher’s Corner
The receiving end of what Christmas is about
To me, putting up and taking down the Christmas tree marks the beginning and end of the season. I still feel a thrill decorating a tree. Taking it down is another story, and perhaps will be a subject for this column in a few weeks.
I have spoken before of the memory my grandmother used to recite, of how she and her siblings (there were six children, of which she was the eldest) would be ushered reverently into the cold, front parlor after services in church on Christmas Eve to see the brightly illuminated tree, glowing with real candles. All would sing, “O Tannenbaum!” for my grandmother’s family still remembered the lovely Christmas customs of their ancestors in Germany.
This was in the 1880s, and each child would receive a single present, with smaller things in their stockings the next day. Grandmother spoke of a special china doll with a hand-painted face; as well as apples, oranges, nuts and candy as the stocking stuffers.
My great-grandparents’ home has not been in the family since the 1920s, but it still stands, complete with a “Kansas-style” windmill, in a lovely grove of trees in the farm country near Lamine, Mo. I always enjoy seeing it when I have a chance to drive by.
Grandmother’s father farmed good land on the banks of the Missouri River, and I think he did pretty well. But for them, Christmas was beautifully simple, and that story has always been a model in my mind of the best way to enjoy the season.
I have never seen the lighting of a Christmas tree with real candles, though they say it is coming back into vogue at the White House and other places.
Back in 1860, they had an illuminated tree here in the Presbyterian Church, to which they sold tickets as a means of raising money to pay for the new house of worship they were building. (That is the church you see when you visit us today!)
Grand-mother spoke of how dangerous a tree with real candles could be, and that for this reason it was only illuminated once each season for their little family ceremony in Missouri.
My own experience of lighting a Christmas tree is more ominous. The first year I was deemed old enough to undertake the project by myself, I eagerly plunged into the task. It was in the afternoon after school, and nobody else was around. We had those old fashioned lights where the whole string went out if one bulb was bad, so the first thing was always to untangle the strands and test the lights.
They worked, and being pleased with the result I decided some popcorn would be in order. I went out to the kitchen and put oil and popcorn in the popper, and proceeded to obtain a bowl, hot chocolate, etc. The only trouble was that I left those lights plugged in where they burned nice oval-shaped spots in our new living room carpet!
Needless to say I was as mortified as an eight or ten-year-old could be! Surely there would be no Santa for me this year. The new carpet was Mother and Daddy’s present to each other — wall-to-wall as was then the vogue — and it had been installed ahead of time, so that the living and dining rooms would be all fresh and nice for the company who would come during the Christmas season, besides giving something to talk about, since all adults enjoy discussing material improvements to the real estate!
I had to make my tearful confession, and fortunately, since the carpet was flocked with a pattern and had a rough, mottled texture, Mama was able use a pair of little scissors and cut out all the burned places — except one. That one spot — not really noticeable if you weren’t looking — served as a reminder to me for years afterward to always be careful when dealing with a Christmas tree!
I suppose also, now that I am recalling the tale after so many years, that the incident put me on the receiving end of what the Christmas story is all about: grace, forgiveness, and unconditional love. I certainly experienced that in my growing up years, and it is a truth worth teaching and handing on in our own time.
It is the gift that Bethlehem’s child came to bring — “the true light which gives light to every one” (St. John 1:9).
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