So, as a new blogger, I decided to try my hand at writing about random thoughts, sort of a “stream of consciousness” type of thing. I decided the topic of choice this time around would be Christmas, as I was profoundly affected by what I have just learned this past holiday season. I know, I know, the holidays are over, it’s a new year, time to move on, but my Advent and Christmas were just so darn enlightening, I thought that I’d share, for better or worse. So, here goes…
Christmas…it always seems to come and go so quickly, doesn’t it? I mean it’s like that old adage: “Here today, gone tomorrow”! Christmas and the entire holiday season, for that matter, it all seems to happen so fast now that I’m older and, let’s say, somewhat wiser…okay…at least OLDER…that I never get to really enjoy it as much as I once did when I was a younger wife and mother of five, rambunctious children! Or, was it even further back than that when I began to notice that Christmas seemed to come across as a calmer, brighter time celebrated by one and all? Even those celebrating Hanukkah and other traditional December holidays appeared to respect our merriest day of the year!
Looking back over my life, I think that, when I was a child, I enjoyed the Christmas holiday the most out of all the holidays of the year. The anticipation started with Thanksgiving and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (better known as the Macy’s Day Parade in my little corner of the world.) Every year, I remember that big holiday kick-off with Santa Claus himself, coming all the way down from the North Pole to sit high up in his sleigh atop of the final float. He would take a seat on his “Christmassy throne” and wave to all people everywhere and shout “Ho, Ho, Ho, Merry Christmas” while children squealed in delight knowing that Christmas was just around the corner!! Ah, those were the days…. I have fond memories of the hot chocolate served piping hot along with the jolliest of Gingerbread Men and other kinds of Christmas confectioneries, homemade pumpkin pie with real whipped cream, and of course, that magical movie, “Miracle on 34th St, in black and white on our brand-spankin’ new TV set (and yes, I had a TV set, just not color early on. That came later).
The next month or so until Christmas seemed to drag on during my childhood. It would take forever for Christmas Eve to come. I would have to wait for the once-a-year Christmas specials on TV; there was no “On Demand” programming or Streaming of any kind. Imagine this: there was a time when people shopped the day after Thanksgiving but the stores did not stay open 24 hrs. or even until 11 pm. They certainly didn’t open on Thanksgiving Day for early deals. And, wait for it…the stores were closed on Sundays! It was a slower time in a deeper, richer American culture. We had the same 24 hr day, but as a society, we somehow fit less into the day and came out all the richer for it. Wait…we fit less into the day…and we were richer for it…is that the secret to a better quality of life??
So, on a more serious note, I began to ponder on this thought of living in a simpler way. In today’s American culture, we have fast cars, fast food, and fast service. We have speed dial, high-speed railways, and same day delivery- all for the right price, of course! We build bigger buildings, better technology, and have made so many medical advances that we, as a society, have extended life well into our 80’s and 90’s. The quantity of years is there but have we extended the quality of our lives on this side of eternity? In some cases, yes, but certainly not in general and that gave me pause. It appears that today’s American culture is built on bigger, better, faster and newer…in many ways, it’s a good life but is it the best life we can have??
This pondering takes me back to Christmas and my childhood long ago when Christmastime was a simpler time that came with less frenetic activity and outlandish commercialism and more quality time with family and friends. It takes me back where age-old traditions were celebrated, home-cooked meals were shared, fewer gifts were given AND the focus for our family, in particular, centered on the fact that the Son of God came to earth as a baby, a human baby.
I had a Christmas like that this year; money was extremely tight which left very little for costly gifts, elaborate holiday meals or special outings. Instead, I was forced to simplify the entire holiday season. I needed to keep the yuletide traditions at a no cost or a very low-cost level. For the most part, we celebrated only as a family. I did take a free bible study with a friend and began looking back 2000 years ago at church and Jewish history surrounding the birth of Christ. I learned some very important lessons about that baby born in Bethlehem, which inspired me to write.
The baby, of course, was the Son of God as I previously mentioned. When the Son of God left His Heavenly throne, He immediately came to earth in the form of this human baby in His mother’s womb. I always thought that He somehow used His “God abilities” to be a human but I have since learned that He never used His deity to get through His humanity. Learning something about Jewish culture during the birth of Christ helped me to understand this precept a little better.
The first few observations are just common sense. After His mother gave birth, He cried when He was hungry and wet just like any other baby, He slept a lot as most newborns do, He cooed at His Mom, Mary and Step Dad, Joseph when they held Him close. Now, here is where the Jewish culture of the time helps us understand what it must have been like during that challenging time in church history. He slept in swaddling cloths. These swaddling cloths were poor people’s infant clothes consisting of strips of cloth, wrapped around the baby’s tiny body. Once wrapped, the baby resembled that of a tiny mummy. This same God/Baby slept in a manger which became his crib. In case younger readers are unaware, a manger is a feeding trough with straw where the animals ate. The trough crawled with tiny gnat-like bugs that often left the animals that ate out of it with an itchy rash. Just imagine being a newborn baby sleeping in the bug-infested hay! How itchy our baby Jesus must have been! These are just a few facts that I learned about Jewish culture at the time of the birth of Christ, which brought the birth of this God/Baby to life for me. The Christmas story wasn’t just another Nativity story…. It was fresh and enlightening and so very real to me! I now know that this special God baby came as any other baby, through natural childbirth to a very young mother, Mary, who was probably around 15 years of age. Joseph was a little older, a young man of 19 or 20 yrs. However, as all Jewish men of that day, he knew NOTHING about childbirth…how Mary delivered that baby on her own, remains a mystery to me. We do know this: His parents named Him Jesus, as instructed by the angel Gabriel…but that is another story for another time.
So where is the scarlet thread that ties all these random thoughts together? I believe it is this: We have become so distracted by bigger and better, faster and newer, that we often forget the best and most important facets of our lives: The love of God that reaches down to earth through His Son, Jesus Christ. From that love, we receive the most wonderful gifts, one of them being the love of family and friends. I have found God’s love to be most noticeable at Christmastime when people are kinder, gentler and more giving; at least I did this Christmas, which was simple and more focused on the Divine. I plan to keep that same focus moving forward. Maybe the holidays are over, but it’s never too late to experience the love of Christ. He’s always available. So, as we step into this new season of life, let’s carry the message of Christmas, that gift of Love, into each and every day of the year!
Until we meet again!