Today is the last in the series of my Top Ten Childhood Christmas Memories.
Though my mother loved Christmas decorations and the legend of Santa Claus, she was very clear with her children about the true meaning of Christmas. The holiday would not pass without the telling of the holy story.
And that brings me to my favorite childhood Christmas memory of them all.
One word I use to describe my mother is resourceful. She made use of what she had to run our household, and she made sure that we children did the same. Money was scarce and we didn’t ask for much. Perhaps that is what made Christmas so special for us. After a full year of not asking, we received something.
Mom recycled before it was trendy. Back then, most moms collected items and stored them for future use. They weren’t being “green”; they were being plain ol’ thrifty. It was the normal way of life.
For my mom, it was a necessary way of life. And when her children needed materials for artwork, she had a ready supply of paper, pencils, and crayons. So, when Christmas came around, Mom had enough in storage to keep us busy with Christmas projects.
One of those projects was a nativity scene. Mom could not enjoy her Christmas without one.
I don’t remember a time that I did not know about Jesus. How he was born, how he lived, how he died, and how he did not stay dead. We had Bible story books to read, and a mother who would share the stories and make sure we prayed every night before we went to sleep:
Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.
God bless Mom and Dad and Lynne and Marvin and …
We were all well versed in the story of Christmas. Mom made sure of that. Santa brought the presents, but Jesus Christ was born.
Sandra and I were probably 6 and 8 years old when Mom first announced that she wanted us to make a nativity scene. She gave us a shoe box, her box of scraps, and the Christmas story.
We got to work. Mom hovered, but the only thing she contributed to the task was answering our requests for ideas, like what to use for hay and how to make the angels fly.
Sandra looked up to me, her older sister, and accepted my creative advice, though with a hint of frustration as I “fixed” her work. She understood that I wanted the best for Mom and when I demanded a re-do of the three wise men, she did it without a complaint.
We brought in grass from our lawn, and collected rocks and thread spools for the animals. We drew the story characters, cut them out, and used our knowledge of paper dolls to make them stand. The angel was our masterpiece, but it kept falling to the stable roof. Mom did her magic and the angel held forth in flight.
We drew a smile on the Baby’s face and laid him on cotton and grass. It was a reverent moment for us as we placed Jesus in the manger. We knew the story: He was God who had come to Earth.
The finishing touch was the star of Bethlehem. We cut it to shape, attached it to the box with a stick and some tape, and we were finished. Mom gave us the smile that let us know she was pleased. She transferred the Christmas nativity scene from the kitchen table to the center of the living room shelf. She kept it there until the New Year began and then stored it with the other treasures her children had created.
It is hard to convey why I cherish this memory as my Number One childhood Christmas memory. The feeling inside that comes when I think of it cannot be fully shared. The memory seems simple and uneventful.
Yet it’s my favorite because of the three characters who shine through it: Mom, Sandra, and Jesus. They were the constants at a time when life was harsh for me and my family.
I was in awe of Mom. I trusted her with my body, soul, and spirit.
Sandra was my best friend. We worked together not only on Christmas projects, but also on surviving through an ugliness that took over our lives only a few years after these precious times of family togetherness.
And Jesus. He was my hope for better things — at least that’s what Mom kept telling me.
And today, I still love them all.
Mom is now spending her fourteenth Christmas in heaven.
Sandra will be hosting the family Christmas gathering.
And Jesus is no longer just someone Mom would talk about. I’ll be celebrating him on Christmas Day — as I do every day — as my Lord.