I suppose we all do a little looking back come this time of year. Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and the coming New Year seem to always stir up nostalgia within us. I am especially prone to return to Christmases past. When I do, a whole host of sights and sounds and feeling spill over me.
I especially recall the “feeling” of our home at Christmas when I was a boy. To step inside out of winter’s cold into air warmed by a fire and filled with the smell of cedar from the lighted Christmas tree is an experience like no other. Those cedar Christmas trees would probably not measure up according to today’s standards. But they were almost a sacred part of Christmases past. Why, we spent the entire year looking for that special tree. Sometimes we found it on a hillside, sometimes in a fence row. It’s hard to find a “balanced” cedar. And oftentimes it looked less balanced when we got it inside the house. On many occasions we had to hide the “bad” side in the corner of the room.
Cedar branches are not very stout. They would not hold up the heavy ornaments which grace many trees today. But our trees did have “bubble” lights. Those lights were something to see, and were the feature of each of our trees back then. Oh, yes, and icicles! You remember icicles don’t you? Those shimmering, super-thin slivers of aluminum made the lights on the tree dance.
To me, the smell of cedar means Christmas. I have threatened, in recent years, to hide a cedar tree behind the living room couch just to enjoy the smell. And I may do it next year!
Speaking of smells, on Christmas morning, our house was filled with the smell of apples and oranges and bananas.
And looking back, I recall BB guns, rods and reels, pocket knives, Black Cat firecrackers, “cap” guns and holsters, electric trains, model cars, racecar sets, walkie talkies, cowboy hats, and the like.
And I, too, recall faces – faces of old saints who are gone. Faces aglow as they experienced the wonder of the birth of the Christ child in the Christmas play at a country church – faces alight with the love of the message of “peace on earth, goodwill to men.”
But of all the things I carry with me from Christmases past, I think it is this. When everyone was awake on Christmas morning (usually around 5:00 AM), my mother and father would sit together, (sometimes holding hands) and watch as we discovered the gifts brought by the Jolly Old Elf himself. I shall never forget the light in their eyes – eyes filled with love and joy – for us.
It was always about us, not them. I don’t recall their ever exchanging Christmas presents.
Christmas morning at our house was the only morning of the year when my mother allowed us to eat candy. On Christmas morning all eating rules were suspended. After the presents were opened, I made my way to the kitchen where I selected the biggest glass I could find. It was usually a big, amber-colored glass the size of a quart fruit jar. I would fill the glass with ice cubes from an ice tray. Then, I would return to the living room where I poured Pepsi from a sixteen ounce returnable bottle over the ice. As I watched the bubbles disappear, I tore open a Milky Way. Surrounded by family and presents on Christmas morning, enjoying ice-cold Pepsi and a Milky Way, life could not have been better.
And every Christmas morning, amid all the present-opening, joy and excitement, my mother would caution each of us, “Never forget what Christmas is really all about.” And each of us grew up to know it was all about the birth of the Son of God.
Our boys are grown now, and each has a family of his own. This Christmas morning they will celebrate with their little ones at their houses. Kathy and I will wake up to an empty house on Christmas morning. But, I have already decided what I will do. I’m going to wake up early and find a spot in the living room floor. Then, I will have a Pepsi over ice cubes (I have the ice tray) and a big Milky Way. And, if just for a little while, I will return to Christmas mornings of the past. And while I am there, I will breathe a prayer of blessing for the ones I love.
Copyright 2016 by Jack McCall