A Decade of Christmas

Matthew 2:10

In many ways my perception of Christmas is through the eyes of a boy from age five through fifteen. Although a lot of years have passed since I was fifteen, the model in my mind’s eye of what Christmas really is like is the model of that decade.

My family lived in Illinois in the ’30s and ’40s. Our town was built on prairie land, 30 miles west of Chicago. Ice and milk were delivered by horse drawn wagon, and horses plowed the streets when the automobile was humbled.

My father got a half day before Christmas, Christmas Day itself, and the day after off from work. So what preparations there were fell to my mother, who taught school. Part of her ritual was to take us into the Loop to see Santa and the tree at Marshall Field’s. After tea at one of the tables around the tree, we returned home. Our own tree was bought at the American Legion lot and kept on the back porch next to the ice box until a week before Christmas. Then it was set up and decorated. Each ornament had its own story. Some were from my father’s family, some from my mother’s, and the rest had been purchased individually at the five & dime.

And so it was when I was about six or seven that my mother and my brother (six years older than I) plotted to have a special Christmas tree. It was to rival that at Marshall Field’s, and it was to be all silver and blue. They saved up during the fall for this extravagance, and the first week of December walked down to Woolworth’s and carefully selected the silver and blue ornaments. The tree was set up, the lights strung (only blue bulbs), the ornaments set carefully and spaced artistically. Tinsel was placed strand by strand on the boughs of the tree. Neither my mother nor my brother were disappointed. It was a brilliantly lovely tree. The silver ornaments caught the reflection of the lights and played off against the blue ornaments, while the tinsel shimmered. My father was speechless when he saw the tree. That evening he sat in his russet chair, smoked a Chesterfield, and gazed at the tree for a long time. Marshall Field’s came in second that year.

Where was God in all that? God was in the preparation of a family event. God was in the love of my mother for my brother and in their quiet conspiracy and extravagance. God was in their sense of artistic beauty and in the stars’ radiance on the snow of our lawn. God was in the careful exploration of the rabbits in the meadow and in the owls in the cottonwoods. God was in the habits of the human family, caring for and caring about one another. God was in the shimmer of His love. Amen.