Today I hope to complete the collage of Christmas memories that I have been working on for the last two posts. The stories that I have linked together and layered somewhat, one on top of the other, have so far had a common theme—disappointment. For that reason I imagine my collage in shades of blue. However, because I am a person who in no way lives my life in sombre tones. Trust me— there will be a splash of brightness there for all to see before I finish my creation.
Buttons and Bows Christmas is that time of year when people like to dress up in their gifts of Christmas finery— new ties, new sweaters, or fancy outfits bought for concerts or parties. It’s a time when people seem to want to give everyone the impression that all is right with the world— their particular piece of the world anyway. At our house when I was growing up there was one Christmas that is most memorable in that respect.
My father had recently bought the family farm from his father and we had traded houses with my grandparents. A brand new wood⁄ oil combination furnace had been installed to replace the ancient monstrosity in the basement, with its octopus arms of dangerous decrepit ductwork. Mom and Dad had been furiously painting and wallpapering for weeks so that the house could put on its best face too. It would finally be free of the sooty handprints and the coating of dust and ashes on every surface that the removal of the old furnace had caused.
We older girls had slept in pin curls all night in order to look our very best that day and we had put on our fancy dresses modelled after Snow White’s. Just before his side of the family arrived, Dad stoked the furnace up as high as he could with wood from our elm tree that had died a few years before. The house was warm and toasty as the heat from the giant turkey still roasting in the oven escaped from the kitchen and combined with that pumping out of the registers. But almost immediately we moved on from being warm to being hot.
Mom asked Dad to please hurry and open up some windows.That was how Dad discovered that every one of the windows was hopelessly jammed! Not a single one could be opened— they all had been painted shut! Even keeping the front, back, and side doors open to let in cold air was not enough for relief! Dad’s first big fire might as easily have been an enormous burning yule log! We all began to perspire like Swedes in a sauna and soon our hair was as damp and limp as dirty dish rags. Within an hour of the relatives’ arrival, all the kids— cousins included, were stripped down to undershirts and shorts or slips. That year in particular there was no joy at all to be found in our buttons and bows.
Mistletoe, Ah Mistletoe It was late December and I had a sweetheart. His Name was Rolly Rollason. He was a carefree adventurous fellow—never to be held back by the weather. He would arrive for Friday or Saturday night dates or visits, regardless of ice, snow, or freezing rain. One particular Saturday night, much later than my snoring parents would have approved of, we said our goodbyes and he went out to his car. I sneaked up the stairs past my parents’ room and went straight to bed.
Little did I know that down in the driveway the sub zero temperatures had done their work. Rolly could not get his car door lock to open. It had completely frozen up. Disturbing the sleeping household for something to thaw it out with was out of the question, so he got down on his knees and tried to warm up the lock by blowing into it. Perhaps fatigued by the lateness of the hour or in shifting positions to relieve the stony coldness in his knees, he faltered forward. Instantly his moist lips bonded with the sub-zero metal! With much courage he eventually freed himself! The next day he returned for Sunday dinner. From that day on, (perhaps due to my lack of discretion in releasing that information) the family jokingly has referred to Rolly as “Hot Lips Rollason”. Alas, that year, I was to find no joy under the mistletoe.
The Christmas Tree A few Christmases later, Rolly and I were a married couple with a mischievous crawling toddler underfoot. He was obsessed with plugs and cords and all things shiny and bright. We expressed our fears that he might electrocute himself or break an ornament and cut himself if we were to put a tree up. It was our brother-in-law Bob, who suggested an innovative solution. Why not put the tree inside the playpen? It was a practical manly solution, not aesthetically beautiful, but in fear for our baby Steven’s well being I agreed to it—as long as the tree was tall and skinny enough. When the task was completed we thought the tall skinny tree looked just fine— kind of like an exhibit in a Christmas tree museum, but it would do. We sat and enjoyed the lights and shiny ornaments for an hour or two after we completed the decorating and then headed off to bed.
The next morning when we entered the living room we were floored! In the heat of our little house the branches had dropped and the tall skinny tree had grown in girth by at least 50%! The tree was now jammed up against the outside perimeters and overflowing at the top like a matronly primadonna with only enough money to buy confining undergarments for her lower half. Above that point it was wild abandon—a disproportionate abundance of the blinged-up top-most regions! The only advantage was that as the week wore on and the needles fell, most of those on the bottom half stayed inside the playpen. The tree was so tightly wedged in that it had to be removed with a saw and pruning shears. Another manly solution! We had sat around the spectacle we kept on display for a full ten days with a cup of cocoa or two from time to time but in truth that year there was no lasting joy to be found in having a Christmas tree.
The Nativity Scene A very vivid memory for me is of the nativity scene that was always placed under our Christmas tree every year when I was growing up. There was a roughly constructed wooden stable with a handful or two of straw strewn about. The figures were all made of painted plaster of Paris and some were a bit chipped from being played with by so many small hands. The baby Jesus wasn’t though— probably because we had always handled that figure with special reverence. Or perhaps it was because we felt no need to move the baby from the manger to anywhere else at all. He was at the centre of the scene—the most important one there, and that was where he ought to be. Another thing I can remember about the baby Jesus figure is that it was out of proportion to everything else. He was much larger than a baby would be in relation to the adult figures around him.
Perhaps the plaster of Paris mold was too tricky to use if the figure had been manufactured smaller, or perhaps the original sculptor who formed the first cast understood and wanted to demonstrate an essential truth. This is the truth that would eventually become real in my own life too. The real Jesus is greater than all and truly can and should dominate the entire scene in our lives.
And when he is there where he ought to be, we will have the ability to experience true joy no matter how difficult the circumstances of our lives or the unexpected things that happen.
Christmas joy really can be found and that is the brightness at the centre of my Christmas collage. That one true light who came and dwelt among us. And to think it all began in a straw strewn stable!