Christmas: Past, Present, Future

Here is another of those Christmas essays I wrote, this one at Christmas, 1996. It remains perhaps my favorite reflection about family at Christmas. I was struck by the fact that my “Christmas Future” at the time of that writing is remarkably similar now to my current “Christmas Present”.

Thank you for indulging me with this trip down my memory lane of Christmas celebrations…

As we prepare to celebrate Christmas this year, I decided to look at those celebrations as Charles Dickens did in his classic, A Christmas Carol. We’ll look at past, present, and future celebrations with the idea that Christmas celebration involves tradition as well as change. We rejoice that Christmas will always be celebrated, because the news is so good it must be told over and over again, always the same story, understood better year after year. The things that surround Christmas do not overshadow it, they merely reflect our growing understanding of the treasures in our midst, and that Jesus came to earth to be a part of human life and understanding.

Christmas Past– Christmas eve excitement that could hardly be contained; singing in the choir at Midnight Mass at our church, with all the carols in the most traditional arrangements; relatives streaming into our house on Christmas Day; the thrill of two weeks off school; early experiences with Christmas shopping (“I’ve got exactly one dollar for each person on the list- I bet mom would like this pen!”); putting up the tree and placing the tinsel on the branches just right; watching mom delicately set up our ancient manger scene which my grandpa had handmade- “Did on of the wise men have an arm broken off dad?); growing to understand that giving was really more rewarding that getting; in later years, playing Christmas songs in the Xavier band at basketball games during halftime; the wonderful warmth of friends and family coming to our house on Christmas Day after all those years;

Christmas Present (1996)– Jennie is coming home from college soon, and I can hardly wait; now it’s my son who is thrilled with the two weeks off school (I’m so happy for him, his joy is contagious); Christmas Eve services are just a bit more meaningful each year; giving is now a lot better than receiving; the manger scene has been passed on to my nephew, as ancient and fragile as ever, but alive to another generation; Christmas carols seem so much sweeter, but somehow sadder (“Doesn’t anybody under 30 know the words to these songs?”); aging parents have precious few Christmases left; now the Christmas Day gathering takes place at my sister’s house, still as warm and reassuring as ever;

Christmas Future– Grandchildren coming to our house now, still warm and inviting; that manger scene goes to another generation, still fragile, but somehow stronger than ever; I can’t even remember when getting gifts really mattered that much since the real gifts are those family members and friends who keep coming through that front door; those Christmas Eve services are more meaningful than ever now, because we are the aging parents who have precious few Christmases left, and we know that we are nearer to meeting the Son whose birth we celebrated for all those years.

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