Saturday, December 29, 2007

Christmas Celebration

Growing up, Christmas was a huge deal at our house. We started celebrating at Thanksgiving and didn’t stop till after the New Year.

But when I say Christmas was a huge deal, I’m not talking about gifts. My parents handled gift-giving so wisely, no matter how much or how little we had on any given year. They got us each just three gifts, both on years when my dad was in corporate upper management, and years when we could barely make ends meet. (Grandparents usually gave us one gift each.) One of those gifts was always a book. We were never encouraged to ask for what we wanted, but rather to be happy with whatever we got, knowing it was chosen with a great deal of thoughtfulness and love.

Christmas remembrances are among my sweetest. My parents taught me that Christmas is about more than how much there is under the tree. We focused on the birth of Christ, of course. And we just made memories.

This week I told my kids a story about one Christmas that could have been less joyful than others. I was a teenager. We had just come through a very devastating situation, spiritually, emotionally, relationally, and we had a lot of healing to do. My parents bought a small farm in East Texas, with a tiny old house that needed extensive renovation. We had money set aside to fix our new place, but my dad was unable to find work. So in the meantime, we put most of our belongings in storage and rented another tiny old house two miles up the road.

It was a little yellow place, pier and beam. We could see daylight between the floorboards and dirt sifted up through the cracks. The tiny living room had a crooked wallpaper border, and the dining room was covered in a jarring coca-cola pattern, red, black, and white. The boys had to pass through the girls’ room to get to theirs, which was essentially a big closet. That was an exceptionally cold winter, and the house had no insulation. There were a couple of broken windows. We woke up many mornings to icicles hanging on the inside of the window sills. The only heat was provided by a couple of antique porcelain space heaters that would burn you or melt your clothes if you stood too close. The septic system was a mess, and we had to take drastic measures not to overload it. Among other precautions, several of us usually had to share bath water (there was no shower in the only bathroom) to keep the whole thing from backing up into the house.

We thought for sure we’d be out by Christmas and things would be better, but December rolled around and Daddy still hadn’t been able to find work, in spite of his best efforts. (On one hand, he was free to work on the new house when he wasn’t job hunting, but on the other I know this was a really difficult time for him because he has always been such a conscientious, hard-working provider.) The remodel was taking longer than anticipated, as so often happens. We realized that we’d still be in the little yellow house for the holiday.

Looking back, our spirits should have been dampened, but they weren’t. I have to applaud my parents for never allowing self-pity or discouragement to take over and ruin that time. (This applied to other times as well, probably why I have no patience with negativity and complaining.) I’m sure they were stressed and worried, but that didn’t affect the atmosphere at home. After all, we had enough to eat and wear and we were together. It wasn’t perfect, but we could make the best of it. We were thankful for what we did have.

Some of my best Christmas memories are of that Christmas…Singing carols with friends in the small, cold living room, making cookies, my sister and dad working puzzles in the coca-cola dining room. I have no idea what I got that year, although I’m sure it was no more than three gifts. Gifts didn’t matter though. Love made it a great Christmas.

Billy and I don’t have a set number of gifts we give our children, although it’s not extravagant. But quite honestly, regardless of what each Christmas is like, my prayer is that we instill in our kids a spirit of thankfulness and contentment that rises above stuff and draws their focus to what’s really important: love, family, and Christ. With a foundation on immaterial things, I know that no matter whether times are lean or plentiful, they’ll be able to have joy in the midst of it. Their hearts will be focused on what truly matters.


Hannah's Mom said...

It is so heart warming to hear these memories. AAAwwwww, I love the 3 gift (there is something to be said for knowing what to expect.) idea... Did you prents decide on 3 because of the Wiseman, that kept coming to mind while reading.

Did you all fair well with that storm that hit your area? We wanted to stop and meet, but we all ended up with a yucky bug that we didnt want to pass on to you and truth be told, we just wanted to get home. :)

Hope you all had a wondrful Christmas!!!

Charity Grace said...

I really don't know how they came up with 3. It was nice to know what to expect.

Yes, we were fine...Just lots of rain. Thanks for not passing the bug on! I'm sure a meet-up will happen another time, and I'm glad you had a good trip.

Jen said...

I love the three gift idea, too. A good friend of mine shared that they, too, give each other and their son 3 gifts...on for body, one for mind (usually a book) and one for spirit.

Loved reading about your Christmas memories...

Barbara said...

This is a truly memorable post.
I just got to catch up with what you have written since my last visit.
We see the same trends over here. Not good and not as enjoyable as the simple times when I was a child.

Donetta said...

My love of and toward your parents is full. How wonderful a treasure you were given. I love the Potts story I really enjoyed hearing him again.