Following up on yesterday’s post of Christmas memories from my childhood, my adult memories are wrapped in two packages: before and after leaving Montague to go to seminary.
My first wife, Kim, and I were married in 1979. By 1981, we had our first child for Christmas. By 1989, we had four of them. In these years, I learned that mothers worked their tails off the entire month of December, and I finally grasped the joy of giving presents to children who could be the most terrible brats right before the holiday, just as we were for our mom.
In the Montague years, we went to Kim’s folks on Christmas Eve. I don’t recall how we fell into an odd tradition, but we loved the ornate salad bar that was the main feature of our meal. Worry not, the healthy eating was properly balanced by the cheesiest potatoes on record, followed by Kim’s mom’s homemade Snickers bars, one in every stocking with the remaining ones in which to indulge.
Christmas morning was spent at home. We had presents the way I grew up, informing Santa not to wrap the gifts that he brought—read that: toys and games—with the boring socks and underwear and batteries wrapped and given from us. Just as in my day, our kids rose early to dive into the floor full of delights. I do believe, however, that Kim and I did not remain in bed as long as my folks. We wanted in on the fun.
Those were the years that we learned to savor the unwrapping of the gifts. We became very orderly. All wrapped gifts were distributed to their owners. Then, one at a time, taking turns, we opened them. What used to take three minutes became a delightful fifteen. When all was done, we played in the wrapping paper as if it were a pile of autumn’s raked up leaves.
We headed to seminary in 1992. The first Christmas in Fort Wayne the girls were 11 and 9, and the boys were 6 and 3. Kim and I were concerned that the girls would find out from school friends the dirty rumor that Santa was not real. And, if they found out, they surely would tell the boys. We decided to take control of the situation, sitting all four kids down and laying it out. Putting things together quickly, Jackie jumped in like biblical Peter: “That means there’s no Easter Bunny. Or tooth fairy!” The jig, as they say, was up.
These years were lean, financially, so the seminary stepped in. They had an adopt-a-family program for Christmas, with churches pitching in with a multitude of gifts. We felt a bit sheepish one year as we had more gifts under our tree than ever before.
But all was not equitable. Re-enter Jackie. One year, where Erin and Addison and Alex were opening this fun toy and that useful pair of gloves, Jackie sat with but one church-given gift. One box of hair bows. Two hair bows, to be exact, as she reminded me when I told her I was writing about this. Thanks for taking one for the team, Jax.
After I became a pastor, we had a new problem: Christmas morning worship which came early enough that if we opened presents before church we would, 1) be rushed, and 2) no one would want to go to church with freshly opened gifts, and if we waited until after church, 1) the wait would be unbearable, and 2) the kids might die for the waiting. The parents made the tough decision to hold off unwrapping until after worship. The children tried to unionize. The parents won.
The first year, someone at church got chatty with me after Christmas worship. Besides all of the other things a pastor has to do before leaving the church, I did not get home for a half-hour after the rest of the family. When I entered the house, the kids were livid. I don’t blame them. I was not using my head.
Every year after that, as I headed over to church before worship, Addison would be quick to tell me, “Don’t let anyone slow you down after church!” I think I got pretty good at hustling home.
Julie and I were married five days after Christmas in 2001. The kids grew up. They scattered about the country. The last time we had the entire gang together was six years ago, when we had the first two of our now seven grandchildren. Kim and her husband joined all of us for a few days. We decked the huge Port Hope parsonage to the halls, not quite needing the manger we had procured just in case.
I now appreciate how Christmas can be a melancholy time for many. The last few years in the ministry, Julie and I grew to enjoy the peace of a quiet house, making both Christmas Eve and morning worship our Christmas celebration. Now that I am retired—goodness, forgive my sentimentalism—how I long for the old days so much. So very much.
Oh, for another family reunion!
This speaks to why I am a Christian and what Christmas is all about. The birth of Jesus was the Lord’s reuniting with us, coming in our own flesh. Having died for our sins, He was raised from the dead in victory and ascended into heaven. From there, He promises to return to take us to be with Him, forever.
Then, there will be no more aching for loved ones.
My earnest prayer this Christmas is that every person takes this day for what it is: “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship (Galatians 4:4-5).”