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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.

I was raised strict Southern Baptist, and Christmas was about Jesus Christ. The presents that were exchanged within the church were symbolic of the gifts of the Three Wise Men who traveled from the East to visit Christ upon his birth.  And in case you're wondering, the church did not give children gold, frankincense, and myrrh in any symbolic form. We got a brown paper bag of colored hard candies, peanuts in their shells, and chocolates. One year we didn't get any bags on the usual date, and while it wasn't an expensive gift, it was expected, and many complaints were heard.

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.

One year my mother bought a rotating, white tree, already assembled, with a color light to use as decoration. No one spent much time in the front room staring at the tree for entertainment. Even the presents looked uninviting (we already knew what each one was; the stocking were the only surprise on Christmas morning).  Next year there was another artificial tree; but it was green, and we did have more fun putting it together and the usual tinsel, lights and balls arrangement looked new and exciting.  As normal, we'd found all the presents before they were wrapped, but we anticipated opening them this year.

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.


Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Donna .. it is a sad time especially as your mother is still alive - and I know you did much to help and be with your family during your father's recent illness and departure.

I loved the story about the missing bag year - makes us realise that things happen and we complain without wondering why and thinking perhaps something happened.

I have our family Christmas nativity scene animals et al ... they may not get out this year - but I shall anticipate their appearance next year, when I'll be relaxed and be able to enjoy and remember the old days way back when! ..

Thinking of you this Christmas .. Hilary

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I'm sorry this will be your first Christmas without your father or that nativity scene. But if he believed Jesus was his Lord and Savior, then yes, he is sitting with Jesus now.

PT Dilloway, Superhero Author said...

Holidays are always tougher after someone dies, but the important thing is to carry on their memories.

I don't remember believing in Santa either. I think my older brother ruined that one for me early on.

Pat Hatt said...

I remember believing for a while and then faked it a while after, didn't want coal haha sure will be a change for you, hope all goes well.

DEZMOND said...

loved the story, Donnzie.
I can sympathize with your childhood celebrations of Christmas since I was getting only four or five oranges for the holiday when I was a kid :) It strange that oranges don't have such a sweet smell and taste today as they had back then when they were like gold to me.

I will be posting my Christmas recipes this Thursday at a friend's blog, hope you will be there :)

Julie Dao said...

May you have a wonderful bright Christmas with the ones you love and the happiest memories of those you've lost, Donna! Loved reading this post. For my family, we're not religious nor were the kids ever Santa believers... the holidays were always more about being thankful for each other and celebrating our luck.

Johanna Garth said...

I'm right there with you! This is a tough holiday for me too. There's been lots of loss in my family as well and I keep telling myself to find the bright side of things, but sometimes its hard.

Ciara said...

It will be a tough Christmas without such a great father. I hope knowing he is with Jesus helps keep the holiday a little brighter for you.

Christine said...

Very moving write. Traditions are wonderful to have and they enrich our memories. You will always have that.

Denise Covey said...

Hey Donna. This is a moving tribute to family traditions -- especially your dad. It will be hard being without him this Christmas. It sounds like he was a great guy, and my heart broke for him coming out on Christmas morning to find his nativity scene vandalised. Oh, how sad!
Maybe one day one of you will open the box and recreate his precious display.
I hope he's sitting up there watching you all...

Happy Christmas Donna, to you and your loved ones. I hope it's the best it can be.

Denise x

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I still have ornaments that were my father's. (He passed away when I was 11.) They are in really bad shape but I hang them on our tree every year. I think every ornament is a memory.

Michael Offutt, Speculative Fiction Author said...

Since I believe that all religions are hokum, I fully support the cannibalizing of traditions from other faiths (pagan or whatnot) and calling them your own. That includes Baptists claiming symbols like a Christmas tree. It's all fair in the land of make believe.

Olivia J. Herrell said...

Donna, this was especially poignant to me. Sending loving thoughts and prayers to you

Donna Hole said...

Hilary; helps to put things in perspective sometimes.

Alex; he surely is. I believe a soul goes where it believes it will end up in the afterlife.

Patrick; I bet someone ruined it for him too :)

Pat: And I had that coal thing in mind when I asked my sister too, lol.

Dezzy; ya know, sometimes we forget the gifts of our youth as we grow, but sometimes we remember how deprived we were also. I've read bits and pieces of your back-story, and I'm awed by your resilience and optimism. Your wit and generosity inspire me to take joy from many things I'd rather growl about. You are a light in my life.
Of course I will be wherever you are posting! And let me say I still intend to have my way with you on my blog; I just need to come up with the wording to entice your Agents for the casting excursion. Soon my pretty, soon.

Julie; I would love for you to post that sentiment to our RFW blogfest. Cultural traditions (not necessarily Christian) is what we are looking for.

Johanna: my condolences. It is hard sometimes to see beyond our losses. Hopefully you have some kind of faith that you can turn to, or some family love and inspiration to get get you through. You will be in my thoughts throughout this season.

Ciara; yes, I think of his love of Christmas and I have nothing but happy thoughts :) Thank you.

Thanks Christine.

Denise: friends like you enrich my holiday spirit. If I forget to say so elsewhere; you have been one of my greatest treasures through this last year. Thank you for being my friend and partner :) I love you Girl Friend.

Dianne: yeah, I believe that was the original purpose of ornaments; to serve as a lifelong memory. Good times are precious.

Michael: lol, yep, I have to agree :) I hope you got laid in Vegas and are contemplating taking "someone special" home for the holidays :) Sending kisses, hugs and special fantasies your way . .

Back at you 'Liv. Nice to see you around again


Anne said...

I'm sorry that your dad won't be with you this Christmas. But I think setting up the nativity scene would be a great way to honor his memory and how much love and happiness he shared with you then.

Have a wonderful Christmas!

DEZMOND said...

"Your wit and generosity inspire me to take joy from many things I'd rather growl about. You are a light in my life."

awww, Donnzie, that was so nice from you <3

Jai Joshi said...

I went to a Christian elementary school and sang hymns every morning at assembly. I'm not Christian and never was but, like you, I do love some of those hymns and Christmas songs!


Charmaine Clancy said...

Sorry to hear you won't have your dad with you this Christmas. Your story will serve as a reminder to me to appreciate my dad coming over for Christmas dinner, even if he will inevitably get tanked enough to dress up as one of the wise men...or Conan the Barbarian.

Loved your words about counting on your father's faith. Beautiful :)

Scheherazade said...

That was a very touching story. One of my favorites so far. It also reveals a lot about you. I think our childhood religious experiences have a great influence on us and why we may or may not choose to leave formal religion. It also informs our writing and our outlook on life.

Lynda R Young said...

This won't be an easy Christmas for you. It's good you have those precious memories of your dad at Christmas. They are a treasure.

Donna Hole said...

Anne: wish I could set it up, but my Mom has some other ideas :(

Dezzy: I'm not usually nice? LOL. Luvs you babe.

Jai; the hymns take on a life of their own to nourish the spirit, yes?

Charmaine: I want to see the pictures of your Da as Conan. Tell him you're submitting to a LARP (Live Action Role Play) site - or that he's feeding an old lady's fantasy :)

Linda: thank you for your understanding. I do find my experiences cloud my writing. Your writing inspires me, and especially your holiday spirit excerpt. You intrigue my writing muse, and I'm enriched as a writer, and a person by reading your blog. Thank you for being my friend through this last year. Your support has meant a lot to me personally and as a writer.

Lynda: thanks. My Dad will continue to be an inspiration to me. Not sure he will always approve of my subject matter or choice of language though :)


Misha Gericke said...

It's always a hard thing to go through Christmas with a beloved family member gone.

May it turn out to be wonderful, if bittersweet and may your new year be blessed. :-)

Madeleine Sara said...

What a wonderful post and very touching. Thinking of your this Christmas, I can empathise with your bereavement and send lots of virtual hugs.

The nativity scene sounds like a lovely tribute to him. I sing out loud in church to honour my dad.He once made an entire nativity out of plasticine. I so wished we'd taken a photo of it as it quickly perished.

Christmas thoughts to you & your family x

Gossip_Grl said...

Very touching story, and I am very sorry to hear about your father passing this year. I can't really remember how old I was, maybe 10 or so when my dad was in the hospital for Christmas and my mom appointed me her elf helper to help with shopping. I can remember her threats should I tell my younger sisters and brother about this secret. :) Enjoyed reading your post, and wishing you and your family a Merry Christmas, and a Safe and Happy New Year!

kmckendry said...

My parents chose to tell us right up front that there was no Santa. We still got presents but never had a tree. But both my grandmas always had such beautiful decorations.

From the first year my husband and I were married, I made it a priority to have a tree.

I'm sorry you lost your Dad this year. He sounds like he was a wonderful man.

I hope you have Merry Christmas and remember all the great times you had with him.

kmckendry said...

Oh and thanks for sharing the song by Helmutt Lotti, I'd never heard him sing before, he has a beautiful voice.

Christine Rains said...

Thank you for sharing this heartfelt story with us. Sorry for your loss and it will be difficult. I hope you have a happy Christmas with warm, loving memories.

Li said...

Thank you for sharing. I lost someone close to me 3 years ago, and haven't put the Christmas tree up since. This year I compromised at the last minute - I bought a sad little Norfolk pine that the grocery store was trying to get rid of. It will have only 4 or 5 light-weight ornaments of special meaning. And, somehow, I love it more than any other tree I've had before. Maybe we will nurture each other. :-)

Deniz Bevan said...

Oh, that's so sad about your father's Nativity scene. I know what you mean though - my father in law sets up a Christmas village scene every year, and somehow it wouldn't be the same at all if he wasn't the one arranging it.
I love the classic carols too!

perfumehk said...

Nice blog
Parfum pas cher

Donna Hole said...

It has worked out Misha, thanks for the sentiments.

I accept the virtual hugs Maddy; thank you.

Merry Christmas Cindy.

Kathy; I really miss a tree. The lights an tinsel have mesmerized me from a young age.

Christine: Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you also :)

Li: sentiment make the holidays special, and you seem to have captured that, and are well on your way to healing your holiday sadness. I wish you goodness and love this season.

Deniz: some aspects of Christmas are more special than others because of the people that put importance on them.

Thanks perfumehk.


Michael Di Gesu said...

Hi, Donna,


Thank you for the very kind, caring, and very special comment you left at my blog. Your love and friendship really poured out and I SO appreciated it.

What a LOVELY memory of you dad. Sad as well. Sad that something he had loved and cherished so much may remain in a box. I hope someday, whether it be you, one of your siblings, or a grandchild will lovingly restore that time honored tradition. This one should't be forgotten. Even if the spiritual element isn't important, a tribute to your dad should be. In TIme ... this is only the first holiday without him. They are always the most painful.

My parents have been gone for over a decade and the sadness seeps into me no matter how hard I try, BUT continuing even one tradition helps keep their memory alive and it does bring joy, knowing how it would please them. So Donna, your story is a wonderfully loving tribute to your dad this year. Sharing it with all of us keeps his memory alive. All who read this will be touched by him and his love for Jesus and the Nativity. This is the TRUE meaning of Christmas. Thank you reminding all of us.

HUGS, HUGS, and more HUGS. I wish I can do them in person.

Thanks for the laugh about the tattoos. I've always wanted one and who knows, the next pic you may just see one.

Kiru Taye said...

A wonderful post, Donna.

Wishing you and your family all the best this Christmas and an even happier New Year!

Donna Hole said...

Thanks everyone for stopping by. I hope your Christmas is merry and all your wishes come true :)


Sally said...

A lovely post with great family memories. Happy New Year to you, Donna, and your family.