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Christmas Day

On the way home from midnight service, we listened one more time to The Gaithers’ Christmas CD, The Greatest Story Ever Told, pulling into the driveway to the last delicate note of Mary, Did You Know, blessing us as our heads hit pillow approximately 1 am.  I am up ahead of Honey, talking to you in the pre-dawn morning light, waiting to grind the coffee beans.  We have exactly 7 gifts under the tree for the two of us.  The stockings each have DVDs, a jolly tradition to fatten the movie collection, and somebody got a new cologne to replace the Old Spice (finally).

Christmas. It is what it is, a day set aside to honor and celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.  We dress up, buy gifts, give to the poor, bake and cook and eat, send greeting cards and letters reporting the year on one page or just sign the card, and attend an extra worship service.

And this is good in its simplicity and adornment.

Then we diet or plan to diet.

I’ve posted many times my complaints of the Christmas machine, how it needs a face lift, a tweak here or there, that we should move the date, tear away the pagan symbols, etc.  I still want to move it, I still want to retire the jolly old elf. Greg Laurie, a prominent minister in California, suggested we at least eliminate gift exchange in a effort to tone down the unrealistic expectation factor for people who become depressed or in debt trying.  I don’t know if I agree with elimination, maybe reduce the pile under the tree and give more to those in need.

In short,

  • research states Jesus was conceived during the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah, and born the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles in the fall.
  • Santa was originally a false god called Obed or Obid or some such name but is now publicized as a 19th century morph of Nicholas, born in Turkey in the early 300’s, who was a bishop in that early church father group, performed miracles, gave extravagantly to the needy, attended the Council of Nicaea from which he was thrown out and jailed for slapping another attendee who insisted Jesus wasn’t deity
  • from that Council, Constantine made Christianity legal, profitable, and state run, adopting nearly all the pagan symbols from Babylon BTW (and we know how God just loves Babylon), renaming them Christian to attract the multitudes to the new easy religion and pay taxes to him. He was baptized and allegedly converted. If that’s right, I’m going to have a serious discussion with him in heaven right after I ask “Why snakes?” and look up the relatives.

Christmas today resembles nothing of Jesus’ day, Constantine trashed all things Jewish and lest we forget, Christianity is grafted into (not from) the Judeac root, Jesus Himself.

In spite of it all, those who get it worship not the baby, but the existing risen Lord Jesus and rejoice, celebrating through gift exchange and fullness of food, sharing both in Jesus’ name.

The world has gone overboard, twisting each detail.  Christmas is an opportunity to profit, eat, drink, and be merry in all its temporary loud emptiness and glitter, avoiding the intent and meaning of Luke 2. It’s misplaced but we’ve mentioned that already.

(sigh) I can’t fix it.  But I can tell it better.  So can parents teach the real meaning, and please understand you are confusing your children when you let them actually truly believe in the unrecognizable morph of a false god, then a righteous servant of God into an elf in a red suit who can do magic.  Let’s have some fun with fairy tales but call them fairy tales, games if you wish. Consider this.  If they believe in Santa because you said to, and believe in Jesus because you said to, and find out Santa isn’t real, what about Jesus? Is He real or not?

The coffee is on.  The stockings beg attention.  One of my gifts is a tallit, a prayer shawl like those worn from Moses’ day, like in Jesus’ day, like He Himself wore.  I can hardly wait to see it.  I replaced Honey’s worn out Thompson Chain Reference study Bible.  What a blessing he wears out Bibles when years ago he didn’t open it.

May the peace of the season dwell in your hearts.  May your giving give all year. May the Messiah of the manger live in your homes.

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Hihowareyoufine

C’mon, tell the truth.

I used to think it would be fun to be in a crowd and when the inevitable hihowareyou greeting came, I would like to see what would happen if I answered “I have the flu” extending the “u” really close to the person who doesn’t really care how I am.  This is immature and will not happen.  Relax. Don’t do that even if you do have the flu–especially if you have the flu.  You shouldn’t be in a crowded room anyway.  Life isn’t as much fun when grown up.

This morning the usual, standard greeting was still “Hi, how are you.”  The difference between years ago and now is that I realize people really do mean it and if I were to answer with the truth, or even the standard fine, but just don’t move on, a conversation might happen, a nice conversation.  It is the way it is.

I said “Good morning, Dan.”  He asked “Hi, how are you?”  I answered “Fine.”  Then I turned around and walked back to him.  “I have a facial twitch, a toothache, and a sore heel.”  He laughed because I’m usually joking about life in general.  “No, really.  My left eye lower rim is twitching, the dentist’s assistance chipped a filling and I can’t bite down on it, and somebody broke into my house,  grabbed my right foot and injected broken glass and razor blades into the heel.”  He laughed harder.

Next would be “Have a nice day” but he was still laughing.  What could he say except “I hope you get better.”  What could I respond with except “Thanks” and hobble away.

On the way home from church, I tipped my head back and proceeded to doze off in that open mouth bobble headed sort of way as the car takes first a left curve, then a right, and so on.  Personally I think if the average East Tennessee driver had to deal with more than one or two one mile stretches of straight, flat pavement, he/she would start to shake uncontrollably and develop a facial twitch.  We made it home, I promptly kicked off the offending shoes and headed for the nap room.

What’s the date? The 14th of December?  Okay, I guess it’s time to start on the exterior illumination.  We have searched the shed, several drawers, a couple of closets and there are not enough lights.  After 35 years of marriage, you would think we would have an abundance of Christmas paraphernalia that we don’t need, not a shortage.  Wait.  We do have an abundance of stuff we haven’t used in several years.  Just not enough outdoor lights.  So the list of stuff to pick up just got longer.

The tree is still in the box under the dining room table.  The angel is hung.  Really.  We suspend her from a cup hook in the ceiling over the tree, she’s just treeless for another few days.  There are some lights on the back deck and an unplugged star on top of an aluminum pole and that’s it.  Like I say, we have a list which will probably be still laying on the counter when we both walk out of the house tomorrow morning.

Some fun news is that my friend Diana is sporting a pretty spanky diamond ring on her left hand.  So it’s been a pretty good day.  All said, the day was a blend of partially finished projects and a nap.

It’s only the 14th.

The Silver Streak

…is not just a train or a movie starring Gene Wilder.  And, it’s all over my workplace.

The company I work for permits and encourages the freedom to celebrate holidays, therefore each department has its own Christmas tree, its own gift exchange, brunches, lunches, and snack days.  The managment also gets into the employee recognition routine with thank you catered events and landmark celebratory catered lunches.  Do you see a pattern?  One of the first phrases I heard was NOVA Pounds.  

Today was a thank you brunch from our manager. She made two quiche dishes of which she promised to email the recipes, and biscuits.  We thought we were done when she pulled out a game of Outburst.  A team leader has a card with 10 answers to a chosen subject and the rest of the team is to shout out their answers before the little hourglass empties.  We divided into 3 teams and proceeded to play for at least 45 minutes.  One of the categories was “Hair-dos”.  One noticable thing about the game is it gets really loud.  I missed most of the answers to the hair-do category, so when we finally did get back to work, I asked Beth what they were.  “Oh, I can’t remember them all but I do remember….” (and she rattled off all of them plus one or two that she said should have been on it.  MacKenzie, the other half of Beth, made note that Beth has a high retention rate of, in her words, worthless crap with no future.

Hair-dos that made both the official list and the Beth List were Mullet, Ringlet, Bob, Corn Rows, Shag, Beehive, Butch, Buzz, Duck Tail, Flip, Wedge, Fringe, Pompadour, Mohawk, Reverse Mohawk, Ponytail, Pigtails, and one shoulda-been, The Rachel, named after a character on Friends.

One more honorable mention is what I see walking around Cubie World — the Silver Steak, worn by middle aged women who keep their hair youthfully dark, too dark, or red or orange or suspiciously blond.  They color their hair whether professionally or by way of the Clairol box, then wait about 3 weeks longer than they should before they do the old root repair.  The result is a one to two inch silver part on the top of their heads, a feature that catches the light and shouts from the front of the building to the back, “make an appointment!”

It’s not just a train anymore.

Save it just in case

When shoulder pads from the 40’s disappeared 15 minutes into the ’50s, most people got rid of them. The same was true of platform shoes, and button hooks. The list is long. Platforms and shoulder pads came back in the 80’s. Keep them somewhere. That was 20 years ago already. I’ll give it another 15 and you’ll see them reinstated as new. Art deco redressed itself in the 60’s and wallpaper resurrected in the 70’s and 80’s.

Some people are squirrels in human form. For the terminal squirrel, it’s painful to throw away anything that is:

  • not broken
  • fixable
  • potentially useful
  • once upon a time useful
  • used at least once
  • never been used
  • of any sentimental value real or imagined
  • could be valuable in any way to anyone now or someday
  • may be in style again whether the keeper is alive to see it or not

The last one is the most powerful to squirrels. Oh, I’m sorry! I should say “keepers”! To a genealogist, keepers are saints. Finding a box of forgotten trivia is tantamount to a detective breaking a case. That’s when rejects become treasures. Let me know when Antique Road Show is in town!

I was minding my own business in my cubie, earphones in place when something shiny caught my eye. Immediately, ADHD, a diagnosis not yet officially made, caused me to stare at a stalk of shimmering silvery foil reaching skyward from our supervisor’s cubie. Company issued keyboard brush? The lady next to his cubie has a couple of years’ worth of mysterious leftover food substances imbedded in her keyboard so it was a fair question.

As I stared, it wiggled and jiggled and started moving toward the wall. I’m checking this out.

Me: Wow, I haven’t seen one of these since I was short. That’s ….. a while.

Supv: My mom has one in the attic in its original box, the color wheel, the plastic sleeves to store the branches and the price tag.

Me: about $12.95, right?

Supv: Around that. Someone offered her $500 and she turned it down. She let us use it on our apartment balcony one year. This one is a retro Wendy found online.

The color wheel was activated and the steady stream of people whose grandmas had one way back when oohed and aahed. Nostalgia impresses me, but what impresses me more is that a corporation of our size, a bank, no less, in today’s world where a school in California formed a task force to make sure the winter celebration didn’t offend any in the 14% of the population who claims not to believe in God, a world where they can’t wear red after December 1st, a world in which Santas in Australia are told to say ha, ha, ha because ho, ho, ho scares children, doesn’t grey us down or dumb us down but allows employees to put up trees and exchange gifts and actually say Merry Christmas to each other. Welcome to the Bible belt. The ACLU is around but not victorious yet.

My friend across my cube wall is a Jehovah’s Witness. We both get to choose and to be. Last year I gave her an unwrapped gift “just because” and she said thank you.

Tradition!

1983_tree_assembly
1983.  Who wants to go down stairs and get the tree?

There are Christmas family traditions that we do every year by choice or just because it was done that way as long as we can remember. 

As long as we had an artificial tree, it was in the box in the storage area under the steps.  I’d like to tell you that the tree assembly was a family affair every Christmas but I don’t think so.  We’ll settle for "many" times.  While the Griswolds were trudging through hip deep snow, while Ralphie’s parents were talking about "them balsams," the Brocks were snug in their nice warm house digging branches out of a box.

1983_angel_on_tree1989_star_on_treeThe extended Brock family gathered for Edna’s birthday on December 23, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day, so sometimes Don found his birthday gift on the door step December 27th.  Stan was a Lion so we had that Christmas party, the furniture store party, a church program for the kids, choir practices and performance, and carolling.  Let us not forget the school and sporting events.  It was a huge effort to carve out a special just-the-four-of-us evening or part of one to create a quiet focus on what all this fuss was really about.  We would choose an evening as close to Christmas as possible, most of the time on the 23rd just after work, to recognize Jesus’ birthday.  I would bake a cake, we would sing happy birthday to Jesus, read the story out of Luke, and if we had enough to spare, open one gift each.  As the years went on, we would add readings, one of which was The Christmas Cookie Sprinkle Snitcher.

For several years, our Christian Church didn’t hold a Christmas Eve candlelight service, so we would attend Zion Lutheran’s with Don and his family.  Don’s family opened gifts on Christmas Eve either before services, or when they were older, after services.  I held our four to Christmas morning in spite of annual protests and begging.

In my mother’s house, the rules were stricter than ours.  As I reflect, I can see more of her logic.  There were few gifts in her house growing up on the farm in Upper Michigan and if her stories shed any light on that family atmosphere, I don’t think it was very warm and fuzzy.  So when she had her own family, she wanted to savor the whole experience.  Here’s how it went …

Doris_cooking_christmas
First we cook.   The turkey goes in before Santa’s made it back to the pole.  The side dishes are many and varied.  Pies are started that morning so they’re hot when the turkey’s out.  Food is love, love is food, I went to all this trouble, eat.  Quit picking! Get out of the olives!  Ma, I’m starved!  In the meantime the presents are crying out for their freedom.  Dad’s already napped twice, Mom!  When can we open our presents?  Hold your horses and keep your shirt on.

When the food is just about ready, then the mom has an opportunity to participate in the gift ceremonies.  This is methodical.  Someone gets to be Santa and disburse each gift taking turns with each recipient.  That person has to open, admire, and display.  Then, and only then, can Santa disburse another gift, and so on until the supply is exhausted.  Several times one person had one huge box in which a small present was buried.  1969_christmas_openingsWhat Mom is holding up so proudly for all to see is the whatchamacallit thing to mix the pie crust ingredients that she had been asking for instead of just buying!  I have no idea what Dad’s looking at — some guy type tool thing? 
So we did have fun with whatever we had to open, but it was Doris Murphy’s rule book.  It was such torture, but I think I understand now.  She arranged both a massive feast and the chance to be right in the middle of the action.  Nobody is left out, everybody gets undivided attention, her Christmases were making up for some sad empty ones.

The torture still fresh in my mind, when I had growing, excited kids, I found a medium, whether happy or not, between Mom’s system and my sister’s which was "have at it, boys" and picking up paper shreds far into the afternoon that had been flung in all directions while the parents slept in.

I remembered the anticipation factor and told my kids they could rip into the stocking stuffers with abandon as soon as they got up.  That they did, and I made every effort to have enough in the stockings to keep the kids busy enough to allow us one last wink.  Filed under "It Happens Every Year," I have to mention that several stocking stuffers were left forgotten under our bed and discovered sometime the following spring. 

There were a few Christmas mornings I sent a kid back to bed, usually Brenda, somewhere around 4:00.  One year she actually sat up, eyes open, all night — or so Randy told me years later.  She tried to get him to sit with her but he kept shooing her away. 

So, around 6 am, we were dragged out to the living room1980_christmas_openings_1 and appointed a Santa who was allowed to quickly disburse each person’s pile of gifts.
Kid Santas operate with amazing speed. 
Paper flew, excited voices overlapped, (did the coffee happen to make itself this year?), and then we would inspect and admire each others booty.  Breakfast?  Oh. Yeah.  In a minute.

Christmas Trees

1954_christmas

Sharon is the tall one, Margaret is to your left and I am the one in the cute hat and coat.  Inside.  The tree looked pretty good that year.  But now that I look closely at the background, I don’t see Mom’s signature wallpaper.  This may not be our house or our tree.  That might explain why it looks that good in 1954.

If you remember Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree and have watched A Christmas Story, you have a clear idea of the Murphys’ Christmas tree adventures.  We had floor models and table 1956_christmasmodels.  1955 was a table year, a Charlie Brown tree when theThe Peanuts Gang was in its infancy.

Daddy, let’s get this big white tree.  We’ll look for a tree closer to Christmas.  Have you seen the neat aluminum ones with the color wheel and light?  It revolves too!!  (The Look) The Murphy system of tree acquisition was not a tradition, it was a variable.  Very simply, the closer to Christmas, the lower the price, the better the possibility of price negotiation.  I remember hearing on more than one occasion will you take $2.00? at least once on a Christmas Eve.

Let me tell you about our $2 specials.  You turn the blank, thin, and/or goobered up side toward the wall and some years, push it deep into the corner.  Then you load it with lights, balls, and icicles as thick as you can to camoflage the damaged areas.  As various ornaments broke, they were replaced with whatever, but the icicle habit was maintained.  Yippeee!  Bubble lights!  Hey, how come they don’t work when I tip them over?

The Christmas of ’72 I came out to Litchfield to spend time with my fiance.  Herb and Edna had a fairly new artificial tree that came with its own decorations which included red birds, enough to fit on each branch.  Hmmm.  And their significance would be……..?

The next year, we inheriteChristmas_1977_1d their bird tree and politely replaced the birds with more traditional fare.  That lasted us quite a few years.  It could also be assembled at half height allowing us to set it on a table — shades of the past —  in our case it was to keep the 13 month old from pulling it down.

He probably wouldn’t have, but the first one is the educational child and 1978_christmas_1we didn’t want to deal with tears, cuts, broken ornaments or electrocution.  In 1978, Brenda’s first Christmas, we chanced the full tree assembly.  I followed closely, ready to take it down and reassemble.  She touched, she didn’t pull.  I can’t explain the bows.  Relax, they’re gone.

Over the years we bought a real tree twice.  The first one lasted technically through July.  In other words, I was stepping on needles hidden in the carpet for 8 months.  We swore never again!! but one more time we caved in to the plaintive cries of "not fake" or "the smell of pine" or "it’s more like Christmas".  The truth is that Christmas is what you make it, but (sigh) ok, we’ll do the real tree thing again.  That was coincidentally the year we had two freaky cats, and 7 houseguests.  The cats hid in the upper branches and did indeed knock it over at least twice and, of course, once in the middle of the night.  We guy wired it reducing their activities to merely rattling it when least expected.  Predictably, we were digging needles out of the carpet into the summer months.  The 7 houseguests were comparatively well behaved. 

A year or two before we moved to Tennessee I found a gorgeous 7 ft. lush tree at KMart in Hutchinson.  It was perfect.  When we moved we left it with Stan’s brother.  That was logical considering the size of our apartment.  So for the next few Christmases, we adorned with lights and garland; I bought a table centerpiece, but we left most of our decorations boxed. 

2004_prelit_tree Last year I bought a really pretty pre-lit tree, all white lights, and bought some new gold balls and gold ribbon.  Let us know when you come to visit so I can distribute dark glasses at the door until we get a dimmer switch.  Notice the coordinating bags under it.  We didn’t buy each other enough gifts to make it look properly festive so the bags are giftless with only gold tissue for show and color coordination.  Ok, they’re fill.

Tomorrow we are decorating for our 33rd Christmas.  We have swag lights on the front porch, a wreath by our victorian street lamp, blue lights on two trees back by our woods, and white lights on our arbor bench and rail on the back deck.  They aren’t twinkling or flashing, but instead appear to be breathing.  Creepy, huh?

Sunday our cell group is coming at 5:00 for our one and only Christmas party.  Next weekend we are going out with another couple.  Christmas Eve we greet a grown up Brenda and her fiance at the airport.  As long as life keeps going, Christmas is as good as you want it to be.  This one promises to be great.

Stay tuned for Christmas Traditions.