Thursday, December 22, 2005
As Peregrine and I were wrapping a present the other day, my thoughts turned to memories of the Christmases of my childhood. I had let Peregrine pick out a small gift for Erik at the store and then he was helping me wrap it. He so enjoyed putting those sticky bows on the package that I let him use up the whole bag. (I had bought them on after-Christmas clearance for twenty-five cents.) The present is very, ummm, well-decorated now. And I know it will be well-appreciated by his Daddy.
As he merrily stuck bow after bow on the package, which looked more garish by the moment, I remembered how happy our Christmas celebrations always were. We lived on the Prairies of Alberta, where winter came early and stayed late. There were swirling blizzards and power outages and snowdrifts taller than me that we would build tunnels in. There was always ice-skating on the pond and bon-fires and hot cocoa. And bundling up to go play outside only to come back in 15 minutes later, frozen and shedding powdery snow all over the floor along with boots, snow pants, mittens, hats, and coats. Only now am I beginning to appreciate my Mom's relentless reminders to hang up our things, take off our boots at the door, etc. Then there were the frozen toes and fingers, and that horrible feeling if they get warm too quickly, the itchiness and discomfort that made me think that my I would never feel quite right again. But just about the same time Mom had sopped up all the melted snow and our things were dry our fingers did feel normal and we were asking again if we could go out and play.
And so on a biting cold day we would all get bundled up, Mom, Dad and five kids, and go out to cut our tree. It takes some serious deliberation and compromise for seven people to come to an agreement about which tree is the best, but somehow we always settled on one. Most of the time it was akin to Charlie Brown's famous tree, a spruce with sparse branches, perfect to showcase the ornaments we got in our stocking each year. So Dad would cut the tree and we would drag it through the snow and strap it on top of our station wagon. And then the real torture began. After letting all the snow melt off it in the entry way, finally our parents would bring it into the house and we would have to wait while Dad got it set up and Mom carefully hung lights on it. This took forever, especially since our tree stand was a plastic ice cream bucket with rocks wedged in around the trunk. I remember one year even the trusty rocks couldn't make our tree stand straight, so Dad got some wire, wrapped it around the tree about two-thirds up and then nailed the wire to the wall! It seemed that our strands of lights always needed several hours of repairing before they could be put on the tree, and then finally we got to put our ornaments on. What joy there was in carefully hanging the little wooden toys on the lower branches, while my Mom hung her glass ones on the top of the tree, safe from little hands. Once all the ornaments were on, it was time for the tinsel, which my Mom recycled year after year. (She wasn't an environmentalist; we were poor.) While most of us were busy hanging crumpled strands of tinsel, someone would inevitably "sneak" off to the bathroom and stick several pieces onto the mirror, then run out yelling in horror about how the mirror was cracked!
My Mom would always say that there wouldn't be very many presents this year, but there were always plenty. We didn't have much money growing up, but I never felt the lack of it. I know that my parents did, but they gave us as rich a childhood as I could imagine. They made us their priority, they played with us, taught us to love and to work and to laugh, and they created memories with us. We did Bible charades, reenacting various Bible stories, and we still joke about Jacob, who was always the donkey, whether carrying a pregnant Mary, Balaam, or the "certain man who went up from Jerusalem to Jericho". When we lived in a two story house we used to have "Christmas morning drills", pretending to sleep in our beds until one of us called out and we all ran to the stairs, slid down the bannister, and raced to see who could get to the tree first. We spent hours debating our parents about what time we were allowed to get up on The Day. Mom always made her famous English Toffee, Russian Tea Cakes, and Pecan Tartlets; we helped, mostly with licking the bowls. We had a crocheted Nativity Set, unbreakable, and we would take turns setting it up each day, taking great delight in placing the sheep in the manger instead of the Baby Jesus. "Hey look, it's the lamb of God!"
On Christmas Eve we were allowed to open one present, and then Daddy would read us the Story from Luke 2. We would each take a figure from the nativity set and act it out as he read. And then we were tucked in to our beds and made to promise that we wouldn't peek as Mom and Dad filled our stockings. And you better believe there were a lot of unnecessary trips to the bathroom and kitchen that took place after we were supposed to be in bed! Christmas morning would come and we would forget to slide down the bannister in our excitement. Our stockings were transformed into strange lumpy things that beckoned us. Inside we would find our ornament, and usually small practical items like lip balm, hair ribbons, pencils, and always a Christmas orange. We would have to wait to open our presents while Mom made tea. I could never believe it- why on earth would anyone want a cup of tea when there were presents to be opened! (Now I understand.) Starting with the youngest we would take turns opening our gifts, and at the end it seemed that Mom always had several left. I couldn't fathom how she was excited about things like oven mitts and dishrags, but she graciously exclaimed about each practical gift. After she carefully folded all the wrapping paper to be put away for the next year, we would proceed to the kitchen for our customary breakfast of nachos. So the day would go on, with us happily playing with new toys and reading new books and enjoying being together. And no Robertson Christmas would have been complete without the inclusion of some other folks with nowhere else to go on that most joyous of days.
I think that's what made my childhood so special, and my memories so dear. The days were marked with love; that of my parents for each other (how often we would groan when we caught them kissing in the kitchen), for us, and for the stranger, the neglected teen, the hitch hiker, and the lonely old man with no family but ours. The love that flowed through and around my Mom and Dad was none other than the Love that was given by God when He sent Jesus into this lonely world so long ago.
And so, as we prepare to celebrate Christmas, as we once again make room in our hearts for the Christ child, I pray that the same Love will flow through Erik and me, and that the memories we are making will be dear, not only to our children, but to all that we encounter. I pray that some day our children will smile at their memories of sticking an entire bag of bows on a gift for Daddy, and of always knowing that they are surrounded by Love.