Christmas in the Past
On an isolated farm with no conveniences, a farm school attended by going three miles with a horse and the icy chill of a northern plain winter, Christmas was a unique, mysterious event. Sparkling stars covered the high banks and the overhead charcoal skies. The moon often streamed down as bright as sunlight. The breath of frosty air sprayed from a horse’s nostril as well as those brave souls who had to challenge the elements.
My memory of Christmas is vivid and stark in my mind even today. As children my seven siblings and I experienced the freezing of our fingers and toes just trying to steer a stubborn horse through the snow drifts. We all knew the feeling of no relief from harsh, unforgiving elements. There was no stopping, no going inside – just our determination to complete what we had to.
Oddly, it is not the hardships or the frozen lands that flicker through my memories today. I recall the stars gleaming on the snow banks and dreams of Bethlehem, imagining Joseph and Mary’s trek across glittering sand dunes to reach the stable where Jesus was born. It was easy to look into the skies and see the North Star and imagine those that followed to find Jesus just like I saw in the many Christmas cards my parents received. It was easy to see the Angels singing in those fluffy clouds that moved across the full moon.
Inside our home, the smells of Christmas are forever etched in my mind. The cooking and foods, delicious sweets and delicacies were all around – not reflecting the fact we were poor. We rarely received gifts unless we were younger. Coloring books and crayons – wondrous fresh pictures, uncolored were all ready to be created. Mom and dad didn’t get presents but I never once saw any resentment or depression. We all were anticipating a joyous season with family, friends and relatives and to this day I believe that is more important than any gift you will ever receive.
In our living-room, unlighted and dark, our Christmas tree stood and I liked to go in and just sit beside it. I watched the colored icicles twirl in an imagined breeze, reflecting off little houses and churches with their roofs covered in snow. A feeling of peace, hope and goodwill always invaded with stark reality. I could always hear the laughter and fun coming from our huge kitchen. Yet I could find that aloneness not lonely feeling, even in the old farmhouse.
At school the most beautiful events unfolded. There was anticipation, laughter and our practice for the final event – before school closed for the holidays. December was spent in learning our lines, singing Christmas Carols and the Nativity pageant we all looked forward to. To create the birth of Jesus was a confirmation these events were real. These feelings are real. We made mistakes, people laughed but there were never any miserable, unhappy people around. The final event was Santa came and distributed gifts. There truly was a Santa for we understood our parents didn’t have any money to buy us gifts.
Now, I watch the scenes of a modern world unfolding and I do feel sadness for our allowing my experience to be denied our children. There is no real Christmas in our schools. There is often only ‘holidays’ in our homes and there are many who deny what Christmas stands for.
Then a feeling of hope invades. I always try to make a Christmas for the children around me as wondrous and joyful as all the Christmas’s I experienced. I realize it has to start within our individual homes and move outwards.
I love Christmas.