As I scroll through the photographs of the slaughter of the innocents in Newtown, Connecticut I am struck by a recurring theme: parents hugging their children: a Dad on the living room sofa, one boy under each arm. A Mom outside, her arms full of two teenage sons. When life feels suddenly stripped down to the basics we instinctively reach for what truly is most important. It’s a heart-wrenching, but also a helpful reset here at Christmas-time. A reminder to stop the blinding Christmas bustle long enough to focus on what is truly important. I recently asked a number of friends who excel at wrapping words around feelings to answer the question: Of all the Christmases past what are your most beautiful, meaningful memories? The ones you’d like to pull forward to make Christmas more meaningful today? Here is what they said:
“If I could go back in time and bring one part of that Christmas feel with me to the present, I would bring the music. We listened to the same old records every year when we put up our tree. My dad played beautiful songs on the piano and guitar. We attended Christmas concerts and The Nutcracker. Looking back, I love the realness of the music I was surrounded by as a child at Christmas, and the way it focused me on the beauty of welcoming a Savior Baby.”
“I would bring the joy of anticipation. Much of that eager hope had to do with wondering what I would get, but some of it came from wanting to see how my loved ones would like what I gave. As adults, I think the giving part of Christmas is the closest we can come to tasting the magic excitement of Christmas.”
“We gathered with extended family only twice a year so it was a grand welcome when we arrived. Then it was fun times with cousins, picking up where we left off; eating my grandmother's homemade vegetable soup, biscuits, and chicken and dumplings; the grown-ups' chatter reflecting their enjoyment of each other; the warmth of family gathered; the sense of it being a ''safer'' world then.”
"For me, Christmas meant having a real "home base." My father was in the military, so my family moved every year or two when I was growing up. But no matter what country or state we were in, we always went home to my grandparents' house in Arp, a small town in East Texas. In my normal life, I had to be ready to pick up and move at a moment's notice, to adapt to new cultures and languages and people. So, for me, that little house in Arp represented constance, tradition, and stability. Every year the same people were there; and the same decorations. We exchanged presents in the same way every year, and went to the same church service, and sang the same songs. Even when I was nervous about what the next year would bring, wondering where I would be living and who my new friends would be, Christmas at their house always made me feel centered, and like everything was going to be okay."
“Lying in bed with my sister and intermittently sneaking a peek out of the window to see if we could see Santa, then running back into bed, pulling the covers up, and squealing with excitement and pure delight.”
“Holding our boys at the top of the stairs while Bill went to see if Santa had come, he shouts "He came!" and the boys nearly knock me down trying to get into the living room.
“Lighting the baby Jesus cake with all of my family and singing ‘Happy Birthday’.”
“Watching as family came loaded with dishes of heavenly smelling food and delightfully wrapped packages. Then eating it all and opening them all!!!”
“Giggling with cousins on pallets made with Granny's quilts after a full day of playing and opening presents.”
“I miss the family gathering together. Every memory of Christmas from the time I can remember was about all of us gathering at my parent's home for dinner, football and catching up. We were loud but we had so much fun. As we grew up, there were more arguments and varying opinions, but we laughed through all of it and knew we were a family that loved each other despite our differences.”
“It was the juxtaposition of mystery and light. Ancient characters paraded through our lives in songs and stories, tending sheep, bringing treasure, birthing a Baby. Tinsel and too-large bulbs shimmered and glowed among the ornaments that shared histories of perennial feasts.”
“The swirling scents of pine, cinnamon, and citrus mingled with those of things baking and simmering.”
“The mystery of packages, of whether there really was a Santa, or whether he might even now be poised to catch me out of bed and confiscate my loot.”
“People. Beloved. Many now in heaven, where Christmas never ends. And Jack Lewis' "desire," heavy in the heart...and oh, so fleeting.”
My own answer to “What about past Christmases do you long to experience now?“ echoes my friends’ major theme:
“The family swirl. Gathering into my grandmother’s house with all my cousins. Opening her door to a roomful of presents stacked up to here. Trying on our new white fun muffs and stoles (that dates me). Surrounded by aunts and uncles talking, stirring the pots on the stove, lingering at the table, washing and drying afterward—completely immersed in the joyful togetherness.”
Many thanks to dear friends whose words take me to the heart of things and remind me that, in the midst of my gotta-get-everything-done rush, only what is most meaningful to my family and to Jesus needs doing. And the most recurring theme is that "gathering in" and reaching for those closest to us. Loved ones. Jesus.
If our arms are in some way empty, God promises that we need fear no evil, for He is with us. Jesus came to be Emmanuel—God with us. My heart is heavy for all the empty arms in Connecticut. May our Father’s Abba arms gather us to himself.
(Please add your memories to ours)