Christmas has always been a special time of the year for my family. Strike that. Too cliche'. Christmas has always been the most wonderful time of the year for my family. Strike that. Too trite. Forget the introductory sentence. Let me get to it.
Yesterday, my little brood, led by my wife, put up a tree, and the four-year old boy and the two-year old girl decorated it with a minimum of fighting and a surplus of good cheer. Yes, only the lower half of the tree is decorated. Yes, several branches are about to snap from the weight of the four or five ornaments hanging from them. This despite the fact that the branches are metallic, an event that I never thought would take place in my home (years of " 'tis the seasonal" allergies and the introduction of children to the home has made me more realistic). Yes, my son tried to group the ornaments by theme only to be stymied by his sister.
I digress. My children are having a joyous Christmas season. They enjoy the daily Advent readings and prayer, if only in anticipation of blowing out the candle. My son's theological worldview continues to develop in its own unique way. Last night he explained that we celebrate Christmas as the birth of Jesus who came to save us from a meteor. I am sure this ties into theories of dinosaur extinction but am not quite sure how. They enjoy the daily opening of another day of the Lego Advent calendar (note to self: next year buy one for each child; I just went to the Lego website to get the link only to find that now they have Viking sets). They had a wonderful time with Grandma J. making sugar cookies and eating copious amounts of sugar. The boy has been making cards for all friends and family. It has been good.
I always remember my family Christmas seasons as a time of family, warmth, and the celebration of the birth of Christ. I hope that my children will have the same memories of Christmas when they grow up. One of the things that I have tried to become cautious of as my children have matured is my tendency to try to recreate my happy memories for my children. As a teacher I have frequently noticed this tendency in other parents . Parents tend to try to recreate their own childhood (or what they wished their childhood had been like) by pushing an agenda on their kids. Often, this explains the parents who spends $2,000 on their kid's prom or buys them a $50,000 car, or pushes them into a sport or other activity. It explains why Christian schools that stress modesty, humility, and stewardship maintain cheerleading programs and sponsor proms, programs and events that all too often contradict the principles of the school.
I have wandered far off trail. In setting up our tree, the duty of fetching the boxes of Christmas decorations from the attic over the garage fell to me. It is a dark, cold, and forbidding place. It reminded me of many past Christmas times. My parents kept (and may still keep) their Christmas decorations in "the hole". The hole is a pseudo-attic that can only be reached through the bonus room. A board a little over two feet by three feet can be removed from the wall, revealing a space that stretches the length of the bonus room. In the summer it is quite hot. In the winter it is quite cold. Opening the hole to retrieve the Christmas decorations always signaled to me the official beginning of the Christmas season. My dad would get a flashlight, and we would go up to the bonus room to bring down the Christmas decorations. Upon opening the hole, a blast of cold air that smelled, to me anyway, like Christmas would flow out. My dad's torso would disappear into the darkness of the hole and would return with various boxes filled with Christmas wonders marked, variously as "X-Mas", "Tree", "Christmas". At least one of the boxes was, for a while, a liquor box, not because my parents were big liquor drinkers but because my mom was an expert box scrounger. I would carry the boxes before me like holy relics to my mom who would decorate the house.
All of this came back to me as I was pulling the Christmas boxes out of the cold, dark attic. I tend to read deep symbolism into too many things, usually trivial. This year I moved into a new classroom. The previous teacher, who had left the school, had left nothing behind, or so I thought. In preparing for classes, I cleaned the white board. Shadows of the teacher's handwriting were all that remained. As I wiped the faded marks and the last physical reminder of the teacher's sojourn at the school from the board, I thought that there was something deeply sad about it.
The spirit of symbolism came over me while carrying the boxes into the house. There is something deeply important and beautiful about reaching into a dark, cold, dead place and pulling out a thing of abiding joy. Why else do we celebrate Christmas in the depths of winter? What greater thing does a dark, cold, dead world need than Light and Life? Why not, in the deadest part of the year, put an evergreen tree in our home but to remind us of life and ever-life?
My wife deserves hearty thanks for her work in preparing the house for our Christmas decor and for assembling the tree despite the help of the little ones.