Christmas Eve of 1884 was a memorable one for our family, but not for joyous reasons. On that snowy long ago Christmas Eve afternoon, my great grandfather was thrown from his horse, breaking his neck. So it was, this man in the prime of life left a young wife expecting the birth of their first child, my grandfather, within two months time. I have often thought, with such a legacy, it was amazing that my grandfather had such joyous feelings about Christmas, and that if he associated it with pain, he never gave hint of it.
Instead he came in the door of his simple farmhouse stomping snow from his feet, cheeks flushed, laughing merrily, proudly holding out for inspection a round ball of cedar cut out on the farm. He built a roaring fire in the fireplace and stoked the potbellies and the great iron cookstove. His eyes twinkled as he teased me about the expected "midnight visitor". He enjoyed Christmas as much as anyone I ever knew.
Later, the generation that made decisions would decide that "Christmas down home was just too much trouble", and perhaps had I been one of those who sweated over an iron cookstove, or brought in wood for the same, I would have decided the same. But as it was, Pa and I sat disconsolately in a corner together, ruing such a decision. Miserably we shook our heads, and moaned together, the eldest generation and the youngest.that "Christmas just was not Christmas if it was not down home." Yet.somehow it managed to come just the same.
It came with a succession of changes, from "real" trees, to artificial ones not looking real at all, to shiny aluminum versions, to artificial ones looking so real one had to touch to be sure. But some things never changed. Always there was the Christmas custard, the coconut cake, the orange cake, the annual jar of pennies I have spoken of before, always there was the laughter and love of a family warming a house, whether a fireplace did so or not. It came just the same.
Members left us, members arrived. Pa himself one Christmas was no longer there...but Christmas lived on.
This year I dreaded more than any in recent memory. Two aunts we have given back to their Maker, and the memories were poignant. One had been the "hostess of family gatherings" for a good deal of my memory. Her warm presence, her ringing laughter is something once experienced, one will never forget. Another just last Christmas had looked at me joyfully, upon the occasion of hearing a Christmas carol, and grasped my hands in her frail ones exclaiming, "Oh! I feel Christmas in my bones!" And I dreaded this Christmas for the two sisters, aged 89 and 90 who were left, for one had already warned me", there will be Christmas no more, no more."
It was with dubious but hopeful planning that Mama and I packed two trees in my car, decorations, and headed the long miles to them. Would they stop my plans to bring Christmas to them? Would they not want a reminder of times before? And I realized, it was highly likely.
We swept into their rooms and began, and I waited for the determined and stubborn "no's" that would tell me there would indeed be "Christmas no more". It never came. Instead I looked into two pair of eyes glowing, heard exclamations of delight. I saw them laughing at the singing Santa I brought them, and try to keep time to the music. I heard them anxiously making sure I would be back to share the season with them. And I saw upon their faces that Christmas would indeed live on.
As it forever will, for Christmas is a spirit. An indomitable spirit that lives in the hearts of all who can feel.
Just a thought,
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