Monday, December 17, 2012
I don't remember believing in Santa. I suppose I had a fleeting moment of curiosity, as I remember at about 8 years old asking the question "is Santa really real?" I think I asked my sister, who was a year older than me and the only person I'd trust not to make me feel stupid for asking.
Until we learned the organizer of this annual event was hospitalized with a blood clot in his leg. Few outside of the Deacons knew who was responsible for this function. That was the year my grandfather was in the hospital, and my grandmother and many of the church elders spent most of their time in prayer meetings.
You're probably thinking about now that I didn't get any Christmas presents that year. Don't worry; we always had presents, decorations, a tree. I'd say my first lesson in hypocrisy came in my teenaged years when I realized all that tree worshiping and gift giving at home - even among the most devout believers - was a pagan ritual.
The Saturday before Thanksgiving my mother had us all slavishly cleaning every nook and cranny of the house, and then we'd converge on the attic above the garage and begin pulling out boxes of decorations. For a week we'd be cleaning, dusting, repairing and replacing evidence of our holiday spirit. On Saturday after Thanksgiving, everything was ready for placement in its usual place. The tree went up first (I think dad's family all went up and cut the trees on Friday), and it was decorated the same pattern every year, and wrapped packages started appearing almost immediately.
While my mother handled the inside decorations (and baking and candy making), my dad was in charge of the outside decorations. He took pride in his nativity scene; he made the manger, got the straw from his farmer brothers, searched out the perfect lighted figures for the three Magi, Mary and Joseph. The scene was set up on the front porch which was fully covered, but every so often one of us girls had to donate a doll to the cause due to bad weather, and some of the figures had to be replaced.
I'll never forget the look on my dads face as he set up the scene - all peace and patience. He was always so happy. That happiness ended when he went out one morning and the manger and baby was gone, and the Magi had been vandalized. The next year he added a chain through the new set-up, and it broke his heart.
Over the years as us kids have all moved out and created our own Christmas traditions, the decorations of my childhood home have also changed. Except for one . .
The only aspect of the indoor decorations my dad presided over was a Bethlehem scene he created across the organ every year. He started with a cotton layer of snow, and over several years, collected several pieces for it - houses, stables, people, animals. I don't remember when he stopped adding to the setting, but of course he set it up a specific way every year. I'd show you a picture, but somehow we never took a picture of it. It was just always there.
This is the first Christmas since my dad's death (2/26/36 - 5/7/12), and it is the first year the Bethlehem scene won't be displayed. My mother has all the pieces; but it wouldn't be the same without my dad's love and enthusiasm for the set-up. And the organ is gone too. The box sits in the house waiting to be unpacked, but none of us want to take his pieces out and try to arrange them in the story he saw in his mind as he lovingly laid out each piece. And, none of us believe in Nativity the same way Dad did.
Jesus was his life; and while I lost my faith too many years ago to remember, I'm counting on my dad's faith to have him sitting beside Jesus in the afterlife, just as he always believed he would. In this matter, it is not my faith that counts, it is my Dad's.
The one aspect of Christmas I still share with my dad is a love of religious Christmas music. There are so many beautiful, uplifting hymns for this season, and I'm sure I'll spend a lot of U-tube time listening to all versions from Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Country and Rock greats, classical musicians; and end as I do every year with the awesome light shows of Trans Siberian Orchestra.
Below is one of my dad's favorite Christmas songs, sung by the awesome Helmut Lotti. Hopefully you'll enjoy the video, and share with me some of the beauty my dad saw in Christmas.
On a lighter note; I'm hoping you will join RFW in celebrating all things Holiday Spirit. Sign up on the linky below if you'd like to participate.