The beginning of Christmastide is marked by the 24th of December; it marks the celebration of the Christmas season, and the birth of Christ. When we were children, it marked an annual tradition that I treasure to this day. Many of those who shared this Christmas memory have long since passed, but I can see that warm, festive house and all those people gathered inside when I close my eyes and remember …
As children, we ventured to my great-uncle’s home once every year—the 24th of December. His home was situated on a high bluff overlooking the river that runs through our old city. Many of the houses on his street were from another century; to our tiny eyes, they were mansions all decorated in festive holiday lights that twinkled in the cold night air.
No matter the weather, the eve of Christmas was a day of excitement from the moment our feet hit the floor in early morning. And snow on the ground only added to our mood. We could hardly wait for the day to wind down so we could dress for the party. Only our best dresses and paten leathers would do. Often, we wore dresses sewn by our grandmother for the occasion.
Upon arrival, we would tear free from our winter coats and mittens and run to greet our many cousins who were scattered throughout the house. Dinner came next, a feast spread on the large oval dining table. After filling our dinner plates—mostly with Christmas cookies and candies if our parents were not looking, we would find a place to sit and eat. The coveted area was in the large sunroom with windows looking out over the bluff. We would pretend we might fall over along with the whole house at any moment!
But the highlight of those December parties, the memory I most cherish and wish I could relive, was of my great-grandmother, Anna, and her musical voice. She had traveled to America in the 1890’s from Luxembourg. She knew little English and few people in the new country, but she would eventually marry and mother 11 children. My grandfather was her first born. Now in her 80’s, she had a parcel of great-grandchildren who ran about that house on the bluff. After dinner, she would sit by the fireplace and all would gather round. She would sing to us in her native German many beloved Christmas carols. The room was silent—almost reverent, except for her voice. I now know how happy she was just to sing as we all looked on. But after a time, the children would begin to fidget and the caroling would cease for another year.
Santa’s yearly visit came next–the highlight of the evening for excited little ones. Santa would descend the decorated staircase wearing his full red suit, black boots, and of course the famous hat! He would wave from the landing and dash into the living room with a huge sack full of gifts. He immediately had the attention of every child in attendance as each waited around his feet for their name to be called. Many years later, we discovered that it was our great-uncle behind that red suit.
After the presents were opened, the living room floor now a sea of Christmas wrap, the evening would end with all of us wishing one another a Merry Christmas and blessings in the New Year. Soon, we would all go our separate ways, sure that we would meet again the following year.
Some might ask what a festive family occasion has to do with the celebrating of Christ’s birth—the real gift of the Christmas season. I believe it was in the lesson of valuing those we love, just as Christ values each one of us … Today, I would give much to be able to sit and listen to my great-grandmother sing carols to us in German. I imagine all the things I would ask her about life in her native country: how it felt to leave on her own and venture to America never to return home and what it was like to raise all those children without her mother nearby to lend support.
Today, the old house on the bluff belongs to another family and the Christmas Eve celebrations are only memories in our minds. But this Christmas, I will honor the One Who came to live among us by having a grateful heart and loving those around me. `
Do you have a special family memory of Christmases past? Will you take time in the busyness of Christmas to stop and spend time with those you love—enjoying the moments?