I don’t have a lot of happy memories to share with you Patch readers today. Growing up poor doesn’t lend itself to big celebrations, fancy feasts, or elaborate trees encircled with gifts. Christmas at my grandparents' wasn’t much better than Christmas at my dad’s house or Christmas at my mom’s house.
My grandparents had a tree one year that I recall, but I think it was too messy (or too much trouble or too expensive or something along those lines.) My grandmother did always have a large candelabra for the picture window and two smaller candelabras for the bedroom windows. “Candelabra” is a rather magnificent word to describe a seven light or three light plastic holder of bright C-7 orange bulbs.
My father always had a tree, but it was small and decorated with a mish-mash of baubles. I got to help decorate it one year and instantly became enamored of tinsel. I learned quickly that if you grab big handfuls of tinsel, the decorating was over in a flash. I had to go back and remove it and separate the strands to make the thrill of decorating the tree last longer. There’s probably a life lesson in there that I never learned.
My mother had a tree if someone was generous toward her. One year, someone gave us a magnificent flocked tree. It was absolutely gorgeous, but I don’t recall putting ornaments on it.
I don’t remember one single gift that I unwrapped, although surely there must have been some. I never had (nor did I want) any dolls, except perhaps a brief fling with a Barbie. I’m pretty sure she was annihilated in one of many games of war I played with some neighborhood boys.
When I visited some of my friends’ homes during the holidays, I was filled with longing. It wasn’t the beautiful trees that drew my attention. We still believed in Santa, so there was no mountain of gifts under their trees to yearn for. It was the nativity sets that tore at my heart and brought tears to my eyes.
I was so moved by the baby Jesus in His rough cradle. I was attending Catholic school and had heard the story many times: the angel came to Mary. Joseph and Mary traveled to Jerusalem. There was no room at the inn and so they had to accept the poor lodging in a stable. A brilliant star guided the three kings to the chosen One.
Whether this is your version of Christmas, or you have some other tradition you uphold, the heart of the story never changes. As an adult, I understand so much more about those nativity sets. I realize I cried not only for the baby, but for myself. I may even have been jealous of the baby Jesus, for obviously, no matter how poor He was, He had two parents who loved Him and He was adored by many more.
As you each celebrate Christmas in your own way, I ask that you remember and share what you can with those less fortunate than you. It may not be money or gifts that save a child from a life of despair. You may transform a life by a kind gesture, a smile, a hug or a greeting. You have the power to lift someone’s heart with a handshake. The time you spend working to improve your community may be the inspiration for a future president or the scientist who will finally cure cancer. The courtesy and kindness you show to strangers may be the catalyst to turn strangers into friends and neighbors into family.
Merry Christmas everyone!