mWe moved in August, for the second time in less than four years. Our big move was in 2010, when we left Texas for Pennsylvania. Our move in August was just a short one, 18 miles, but it still involved organizing and packing belongings, and then unpacking. We’re still in that process. And I’ve been thinking a lot about previous Christmases, because among our belongings was a box full of photographs. It is interesting to notice now that almost every photograph that exists of my family when I was growing up was taken around a holiday or occasion of some sort, with about half of the photos being from Christmas.
My family, living in Arizona, was separated from our extended relatives, most of whom lived in West Virginia and Ohio. So it was a rare occasion to have family visit with us over the holidays. Distance and the weather made these family Christmases rare, and memorable. My sister and I were the youngest cousins on both sides of the family, so the occasional visit by a relative usually didn’t involve anyone else our age. One of our older cousins and her husband, who had two children slightly younger than my sister and I, moved to Southern California when I was in high school, and we spent a couple of Christmases at their house. Most often, though, the guests at our Christmas dinner table were members of our church who lived far away from their families as well.
Christmas shopping was never really much of a tradition in the home where I grew up. My Dad planned ahead, buying gifts across the entire year, and had a place in the house where he would stash them. It was a place I always suspected existed, but never found. When I was a kid, of course, I thought the presents came from Santa Claus. Once I grew older, I couldn’t figure out when he bought them, because there were never any special shopping trips made at Christmas time. It was years before he disclosed that he and my Mom would do Christmas shopping on days when we were at school, on an overnight trip, or away at summer camp or something like that. He never disclosed where he hid the presents.
When I was younger, my parents were only marginally involved in church. But they were faithful in their attendance on Christmas Eve. The Baptist church they went to when they did go had a Christmas Eve service, followed by a pancake fellowship. When that was over, about 8:00 p.m., the youth and adult choirs would go caroling to the shut ins and the hospital. When my parents became actively involved in the church, everyone would wind up at our house after the caroling, where my Mom had the coffee pot on, and trays of Christmas cookies ready to go. We’d sing a few carols and my Dad would read the Christmas story from the King James Version, and then we’d pray before leaving. Those evenings were very meaningful, and were a very important part of my upbringing.
White Christmases were rare, and memorable. The first time we had a white Christmas, I was in the fourth grade. We were scheduled to get out of school on a Wednesday, but after a heavy snow over the weekend, the phone call came on Monday that school would be cancelled. More snow the next night brought cancellation for the rest of the week. It stayed cold for quite a while that week, and we had another snowfall on Christmas eve, on top of snow that hadn’t melted yet, which was quite unusual for our part of Arizona. The next white Christmas I remember, I was in college, and had trouble getting home. Roads were closed, and travelers on the interstate who were stranded were spending the night in local churches, the school, anywhere there was room. The drive home from Phoenix, which would normally have taken just under three hours took almost six, with the last thirty miles being the worst. Then the temperature fell to record lows for a week and the snow and ice was still around on Christmas day. Some parents, who hadn’t done their Christmas shopping, had to explain to their kids why it was hard for Santa to get to Arizona because of the snow.
Christmas was always a blessing and an inspiration to me. Beyond the season, the story of Christmas is something I’ve always believed, and the salvation that it brought something that transformed my life. I’m thankful to have been raised in a family that could enjoy the whole season, and live it in celebration of its true meaning. I can appreciate everything about the season, and use it all as a reminder of the greatest gift that God ever gave to his people. Tomorrow, separated from my family once again, we will celebrate with fellow believers with whom we have salvation in common.
Merry Christmas! In Western Pennsylvania, it’s a white one.