Each year when December comes around and it's time to decorate for Christmas, one of my very favorite things is getting out some of the old ornaments that have been around since my childhood. After I got married and had a home of my own, my mom let me have a few special things from Christmases past. They are not valuable in the sense that they cost very much money, but to me they are worth so much. These ornaments were on or under our tree or placed somewhere in the house every Christmas for as long as I can remember. I consider it a joy to give them a place of honor in my home today. They serve as a reminder to me for many things.
Here is the old nativity scene that Mom always placed at the foot of our small tree:
And here is one of our favorite old ornaments that my sis and I always called "the mouse in the chimney":
You see, we didn't have much when I was growing up. The things that are special to me and have a special place in my memory and in my heart are not fancy. Times were very, very hard for a very long time. When my sister and I were little, our mom would put up a small tree. Most of the decorations on it were ones that we had made at school or church, because it's all we could afford and because those meant the most to her anyway.
I don't really remember Christmas of 1978. It was one month shy of my second birthday. It stands out in my mind, however, because of a few old Polaroid photographs and because of the stories that have been told about it. Christmas was certainly unique that year. It was the year my dad won $200 playing pool, and he and my mom decided to spend it all on Christmas! Here's what our biggest childhood Christmas Day looked like:
Wow! It was a really big deal to us. Although I was too young to remember the day, I do remember playing with that basketball goal and that baby carriage for years to come.
We only have pictures from two of those early Christmases because they were the only ones during which we owned a camera. After only a couple of years, the Polaroid stopped working right and my dad tossed it into a field in Kansas during a road trip. I've always wondered if anyone ever found it!
The next couple of photos come from the following Christmas, 1979. It was thirty years ago this year, and one month before my third birthday. This is more like what a typical Christmas would have looked like at our house. There wasn't any bonus from any barroom activity that year, but I'm quite sure my sis and I were just as excited about Christmas Day!
If you look very carefully, you can see the little nativity under the tree. I even think I see the mouse in the chimney toward the top of the tree.
(That's me in yellow and my sis in green.)
Later I know there were many years when we had no tree and knew there would be few or no gifts. Fortunately, Mom knew better than to invent stories about Santa Claus. How would you explain to poor kids that even though they'd been good, Santa wasn't coming? I have always appreciated the fact that our mom made the decision to tell us that Santa was just a story that people tell for fun, but it wasn't real. We didn't burst anyone's bubble with the news, either; we just felt like we were in on a grown-up secret.
Mom knew that one day we wouldn't care that we didn't have mall photos with the man in the red suit and white beard, because she knew she had tucked the true meaning of Christmas away in our hearts. Her gift was that we knew that Christmas was about Jesus: Emmanuel, God with us. She taught two little girls that God loved us whether we were bad or good, and He blessed us with the greatest gift of all even though we were poor. That was something that we could believe in and hold on to.
So, that's what I focus on when I remember Christmas past. Sure, it was hard to see others with their new toys and games and clothes year after year. The true lesson and meaning of things is difficult to recognize when you're a child, but it is one that I hope will stick with me forever.
Sometimes I still need a reminder that Christmas isn't about things. It's about a Savior, it's about love, and it's about family. It's a great lesson for Christmas: past, present, and future.