It’s my custom to write a Christmas letter to stick into the cards I send during the holidays. I name some of the year’s events. Then I include the feelings and learnings of past twelve months. How I had been changed.
The impetus to create such a missive didn’t come this year. I realized that my blogs had served that purpose throughout 2021. Those blogs were written for you, of course. Instead of saying again what I’ve said before, here’s some Advent thinking I’d like to share with you.
I haven’t been in Michigan for Christmas since 2019, but I know what I’ll find when I arrive at my brother’s house this year. My sister-in-law will have created an elegant setting, with their tree dramatically decorated with sparkly ribbon and tastefully placed large glass balls, in just one or two colors. The tree will proclaim simplicity, sophistication, and calm.
That’s not the case at our home here in Washington. Our tree is a hodge-podge of decorations, gathered over the years. They don’t match or have a coordinating color scheme, and there is no way the tree could appear orderly. Our tree shouts fun, family, and exuberance. It’s a cacophony of color.
I’m the tree-trimmer in the family, and each year it’s fun to unwrap the ornaments, a joy to “say hello” to favored decorations not seen since last season. I hold each for a moment, breathing in the memories. I give a special welcome to the angel who always tops our tree.
I bought my glittery angel at the florist shop of Seattle’s Frederick & Nelson downtown store in 1966. In 1966! She’s been my tree guardian for fifty-five years. Not only do I greet her each year as I unwrap her from her tissue paper, at the end of the Christmas season, I bid her “sleep well” as she ends her yearly stewardship of the tree.
The tree is cozy-crowded. Before we moved and downsized, we always put up two trees. A regular tree and an “angels only” one as well. Now I squeeze onto the single tree as much as possible.
I put on as many of the carousel animals as I can, a sampling of the horses, bears and tigers. I have to rotate them year-by-year, though. My friend Julie and I have exchanged merry-go-round ornaments at our annual Christmas lunch for the past 45-plus years–I can’t recall exactly how that came to be, but I treasure the tradition. I watch for new ornaments year-round, as does friend Julie. Her husband has caught the spirit and scouts for Christmas tree possibilities as he travels the world.
There are hand-painted ornaments my dad painted forty years ago, and a small crystal angel that first hung on the memorial tree at his church the Christmas following his death.
We have many travel memories, decorations collected from Russia, Ireland, Hawaii, and other vacation spots.
And, the angels! They are made of glass, plastic, felt, tin, ceramics. Some are classic types—pretty and appearing well-behaved. Some are probably not really angels, but fairies, sprites, and imps swept in to the winged-figurine collection. They exhibit all sorts of behavior. A few are even scandalous—naked and proud. We’re delighted with those.
There are numerous Santas, and a number of manger scenes. The tree is a mixture of the secular and the sacred.
As are all our decorations in the house.
A snowwoman greets everyone coming to our door, then the first thing they see entering the house is a manger scene.
My study features a cheery Eskimo doll my mother put out each year as a Christmas decoration. The doll shares the room with another manger scene made up of felted characters.
Christmas has always been that mix for me—the sacred and Santa. The creche and the sleigh.
My brownie troop went Christmas caroling each year, singing both “Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Joy to the World” to shut-ins all over town. I would be so eager for Christmas Day and present-opening. But I also keenly anticipated the sense of awe I knew I’d feel as the sanctuary lights dimmed on Christmas Eve, and the candles, one for each of us to hold, were lit. At the stroke of midnight, we’d sing “Silent Night”. It was Christmas, the baby was born, hallelujah!
I remember believing in Santa. (I’ve sad news for all of you raised outside the Detroit area. The real Santa was the one at J.L. Hudson’s department store – all other Santas were merely helpers. My grandma told me so.) I don’t remember when I stopped believing.
I also remember my reverence of the story of The Birth. I believed—I still believe.
One gift I’ve been given during these months of Covid restrictions is time for reflection. Being forced to slow down, to live more simply, has freed up mental space. One question that keeps popping up in my mind is the relationship between my childhood belief in magic and make-believe, my ability to believe in the unseen Santa and the unseen Jesus. I haven’t yet weaseled out how—as a little girl—I figured out the joyous fun of the Santa-secret and the enduring truth of the Jesus story. I thank my parents and a parade of pastors and Sunday School teachers for guiding me through that journey.
The child-in-me, now that I’m almost eighty, still delights in the dazzle of Christmas, all the glitter and glitz of Santa’s season. The woman I am cherishes the enduring, radical, world-changing events ushered into the world through The Birth.
So, dear reader, I do wish you a most magical holiday. Embrace the warmth and friendship, hold close the reality of the season that speaks to you. I’ll be in touch again soon – in 2022!