When I wake up tomorrow morning, and get ready to spend the day with friends, it will be the 50th Christmas of my life. It doesn’t seem like it has been that long, though I am at the point where I can no longer remember all of the details of each Christmas of my childhood. A couple of the local radio stations I listen to have, in the past couple of years, had an all-Christmas music format between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and in order to do that, they’ve had to drag out just about every Christmas song recorded by anyone in at least 50 years, so they often play songs from records that my parents had. They literally had stacks of Christmas records, which my mother would play frequently during the season. Hearing Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas,” Lawrence Welk’s instrumental “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and Perry Como’s “Home for the Holidays” triggered some memories for me.
Growing up in Southern Arizona, the chance of having a White Christmas was a hit and miss proposition. Most people are surprised it snowed there at all, but Cochise County, where I grew up, lies at fairly high elevations, and is cris-crossed by several mountain ranges that have peaks as high as 9,000 feet. There was usually snow on the mountains by Christmas, and three or four times each winter, a storm would dump two or three inches on us. On at least two occasions when I was still in school, we had snow on the ground on Christmas day. In 1966, we got out of school three days before scheduled when 8 inches fell one night, and stayed around for a week or so. On December 23, we got another 5 inches, and most of it was still on the ground Christmas morning. A decade later, in 1976, we got 12 inches on December 24, and on Christmas morning the temperature was around zero. Everyone was excited about that.
Ironically, the Christmas we spent at my grandmother’s in Ohio when I was in seventh grade, and the one we spent at my aunt and uncle’s in West Virginia when I was in ninth grade, were not white ones. But my wife and I have had White Christmases at our home in Missouri twice, and once while we lived in Kentucky. But our most memorable one happened right here in Houston in 2004. It has been our tradition to attend services on Christmas Eve, and at our former church, the custom was to carry your lit candle out the front door down the steps to the fountain in front of the building. When we emerged that evening, it was snowing. By the time we got home, two inches had accumulated on our roof and yard, covering the ground.
Christmas Eve Worship
I can’t really remember a Christmas eve when I was not in church. The small Baptist church I grew up in always had a Christmas service on Christmas eve, and for a while, it was the only Protestant service in town, so the church was always packed. Sometimes, the children and youth would present a play or a program, sometimes it was a service of carols and a Christmas message, but we always did something. As a church staff member, I introduced the idea of Christmas eve worship to a couple of congregations where I have served. I think it is important to do this, not only as a reminder that “Jesus is the reason for the season,” but to remind us, at Christmas, that our priorities need to focus on what God did for us rather than on all of the busyness. I was told, at one church, that asking the choir, musicians and congregation to come on Christmas eve would be a bother, and that few people would show up. The sanctuary was packed as those of the congregation who were in town came, brought family members with them, and others from the community looking for a place to worship also showed up.
One of the most meaningful Christmas Eve services I remember took place when I was a bi-vocational staff member at a church in Tucson, Arizona. One of our members owned a ranch that was way out in the desert west of the city, and we went out there and gathered around a large bonfire, sang carols, read the Christmas story, prayed together and then just sat around and visited. It was a cold night, but between the fire and being wrapped up in blankets and coats, the fellowship was warm. We were joined, at one point, by a herd of cattle on the fringes of our circle, and later, a herd of goats. We could hear coyotes howling in the distance.
Blessings to You
I suppose, after 50 Christmases, I could write a book of memories, there are now so many. Each one has a place in celebrating the birth of Christ. But I am most blessed by the fact that I have grow in my understanding of the real meaning of Christmas, that God loved us so much he made a plan for redeeming us from our own sin, and a way for us to come home to Him. Sunday, in the class of senior adults I teach, we traced God’s plan for redeeming us through Christ all the way back to Adam and Eve’s fall. Fifty Christmases are a lifetime for me, but they are a very short period of time in God’s plan.
I wish you a merry Christmas, and a blessed one.