The magic of Christmas is not in the presents, but in His presence. –Unknown
I’m just CRAZY about Christmas! I always have been. And somehow, I have managed to let both the secular and the sacred share space in my heart (with the tie going to the sacred, of course!) during this magical time of year. As a kid, I remember Christmas Eve worship and how I especially loved the nativity at my Mom’s house. I can recall that it was tucked away each year in its original box, every piece finding its place in the foam packaging. When my mother set it out…baby Jesus, Joseph, Mary and the gang all hung out in a miniature stable that my grandpa made. Examining each piece, I can still see the beautiful face of Mary and the baby Jesus…surrounded by hay…looking so heavenly and angelic. Both a baby and a Savior. The little set symbolizing an extraordinary and miraculous moment in time. Joseph looking so noble…the epitome of honor and faithfulness. There were farm animals, an angel, a shepherd boy, and the three wise men, of course. It was pretty wonderful.
So, it sort of surprises me that I never had a nativity of my own. Not when I went away to college, not when I took my first job in Arkansas, not when I moved to California, and not when I got married. In fact, I didn’t have a nativity until after my son, Sean, was a year old. It all happened in another magical moment at Hobby Lobby (seems that this store is the scene for many Spencer Family Christmas memories!)
After moving halfway across the country from California to Kansas, my mother-in-law, Sean and I found ourselves in the Hobby Lobby in Salina…for what I remember was a brief and snack-filled trip to do a little Christmas shopping (by the way, Cheez-Its make for great toddler payola…just saying!) Strolling through a craft warehouse with a 1 year old BOY is no easy task! So when it looked like Sean was going to leap out of the cart at any moment, Karen suggested that Sean help us pick out a nativity for our home. This was a genius idea because it gave my toddler a sense of purpose and I was just thrilled with the thought of having a nativity of my own. In record time, my excitement turned to worry as I remembered that something as fragile as a porcelain nativity probably wouldn’t last but a second in our house. Sean was just so hands-on about everything! In the back of my mind I had planned to buy him a Fisher Price Little People nativity set for Christmas. It was important to me that he understand the Christmas story…and at an age appropriate level. He already had a few Little People collections…the train set and the airport. Still, it couldn’t hurt to look at the nativities on display at the store.
It was pretty amazing…an entire aisle with nativities in every shape and size imaginable. My thoughts were racing…where would we put such a fragile item? Karen must have heard the wheels grinding in my head. After explaining my thoughts, she said, “Sean will pick out the one that he likes best…and we will teach him to care for it and look after it.” My heart was touched as I watched her talk with Sean about picking out a baby Jesus to take to his house. She reminded him that he would have to take extra special care of it! And asked him if he was ready to choose one. Sean beamed! From an early age, Sean could tell a story with his eyebrows (a talent he inherited from Grandma Karen.) One second the eyebrows would be arched high as he caught a glimpse of something intriguing. The next minute the eyebrows would be furrowed as he inspected his options. Sometimes just one eyebrow would lift as if he was thinking really hard. It was a wonderful little dance. When he finally picked one, all three of us knew this was the nativity for us. It was perfect. A chunky little wooden nativity…not too big and not too small. Sean touched each piece and seemed very delighted with the farm animals in this set. Since all the nativities were technically “on display” we found a store worker who immediately set out to find us a boxed set from the storage room. However, when she came back, she wasn’t carrying a box. Uh-oh. She explained that they hadn’t ordered many of this set and that they were sold out. She had also checked to see if getting one before Christmas was a possibility. It was not.
Karen is always cool as a cucumber in these sorts of situations. Clearly, THIS was the set that Sean wanted. She didn’t want to disappoint her grandson so she did what ANY grandmother would do. She asked if we could buy this very set. The store worker said that in any other situation she would love to sell it to us, except that this set had been GLUED to the foam board it rested upon. She pulled off one of the wise men to demonstrate. Stuck to his base was loads of navy blue paper and foam. Both Karen and the worker tried to pull it off. It was no easy task. Even if we pulled each piece from the board we would then have to pull off loads of paper scraps. The lady said that the pieces might not even stand correctly given the amount of glue left on the base. She obviously didn’t know who she was dealing with…Karen said she would work all that out later if we could just buy this nativity set. And so, it was settled.
Sean held the wise man in his hot little hands as we arranged the foam board and the glued down pieces across the shopping cart basket. There were quite a few stares, but we managed to check out and make it to the car. From the moment we got home Karen worked on releasing each character from the foam…carefully pulling off paper and glue. Her beautifully manicured nails probably got the raw end of the deal that day as she scraped and scraped. Each time she finished a piece she handed it to Sean. His eyebrows went to work again…doing their little dance as he checked out each one. He would show it to me and then go and show his Dad and then show me again. I think Sean had already had a bath and was tucked into bed before Karen had finished them all. It was truly a labor of love.
Sean played with the nativity all December long. Each day he would rearrange them and make sure the animals were “fed.” Since our set didn’t come in a box, we lovingly packed them away in an oversized shoe box after the holidays, unpacking them with great delight the next year and the year after that. Sean never seemed to tire of “playing” with the set. When Casey came along (and was old enough to follow her brother everywhere,) he explained the cast of characters to her. “This is baby Jesus…His mom’s name is Mary and His dad’s name is Joseph…,” and on down the line. These are the moments that live in a mother’s heart for eternity.
Today, the nativity makes its home in front of the fireplace each Christmas and it serves as the centerpiece of our Christmas Eve dinner table. I still love taking it out of the shoe box each and every year…a flood of memories spilling out with each “sticky” piece.
Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love Divine,
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and Angels gave the sign.
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, everywhere you go…. –Meredith Willson
You know the Christmas trees you see at the store? The pretty ones that they put in the windows and on display for everyone to gawk at and fawn over. The perfect ones that force you to stop in your tracks and make your mind ponder (just for a moment) if perhaps you’re really ready for a “grown-up” tree. The kind of tree that screams I have style AND taste. Yeah, I’ve seen those trees, too….
Lately, I’ve seen a lot of them. Not just at the stores, but on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest (the social media list goes on and on) and even in the homes of family members and friends. It seems to me that everyone has one of these beautifully accessorized trees. And this sort of thing stands out to me, not because I’m envious or jealous but more from a place of sheer admiration. You see, I LOVE Christmas trees…all kinds (and especially the Charlie Brown one,) but in my heart of hearts I always imagined that I, too, would have one of these special Christmas trees…a “magazine ready,” picture perfect tree.
My Mom has that kind of Christmas tree. I can remember the red apple tree, the blue and silver bulb tree, and the crystal snowflake tree, among others. I always assumed that would be my destiny–like mother, like daughter. In fact, I tried really hard to have one many moons ago. When I met my husband he had a Christmas tree in his living room…in May. Granted it was a mini TV top tree, but he had it on display for Memorial Day, I guess (oh, and a plush Thanksgiving turkey was placed next to it, too, probably to welcome the summer season.) I took this as a sign that he wasn’t much into decorating and eventually I filed it away as proof that I would be in charge of all holiday décor. So when we graduated from tiny, dorm apartment living and moved to a home in Salina, I figured this was my big break. I was going to do Christmas my way. I remember telling my Mom that I was going for a blue/white/silver snowman theme. She purchased ornaments to get me started and I began to gather all the “right” accessories as well. Our son, Sean, was just over a year old, and after photos with Santa one night, we came home to decorate the tree. And while I was strategizing and putting a final game plan together, Steve and Sean were already placing ornaments on the tree. What?
Turns out these ornaments were from Steve’s childhood along with a few others that his mother had passed down to us. (I’m still not sure where this box came from.) Sean looked thrilled as several of these ornaments were football related. And I remember stopping in my tracks and thinking that 49er red really didn’t go with my snowman theme…at all. Obviously, a “discussion” ensued. That Christmas the tree was properly adorned with blue/white/silver snowman themed items and EVERY ornament my husband had ever owned in his life. I figured I had lost the battle, but certainly not the war. There was always next year, and the year after that, and the one after that. The odds, however, were not in my favor.
Please don’t feel bad for me. It really wasn’t a make or break deal. I love Christmas and pretty much all things Christmas related. So we moved on and it wasn’t until Sean was in preschool that I finally got on board with the “all-things, everything” kind of Christmas tree. When that sweet-faced little boy brought me his first homemade ornament from school and proceeded to put it on the tree…well, my heart melted. He was so proud of himself. A little man contributing to a holiday that I loved so much. Sean would tell me in his tiny voice, “I made it for you.” So naturally every scribbled on, wadded up, half-glued, misshapen ornament made its way onto the tree–as it should. And when Casey came along, well her “contributions” went up right along side his.
As you can imagine, after more than a decade of “contributions” amassed from school AND church, we now have quite a collection going. Add to it EVERY ornament we have ever received from relatives, friends, plus our church family, and it amounts to 7 boxes of Christmas knickknack goodies. Every year the tree is quite full (this may be an important factor when you consider the number of times the tree has fallen over the years,) but I wouldn’t have it any other way. The Spencer Family Christmas tree is full of as many stories and memories as it is ornaments. This year the kids asked me if we really had to hang every last trinket from the boxes. I guess they thought that maybe the “bead ornament” (there really is no other name for it since it resembles absolutely NOTHING ever known to man) and the “paper Jesus candy cane” may have seen better days. “If there’s room on the tree, then there’s room for it,” was my constant reply. And while I think the “all-things, everything” kind of Christmas tree has roots in my husband’s Christmas tradition, he is the one who announces every year that “it looks like Christmas threw up in here!” At least he says it with a smile.
Our tree is still up (it’s New Year’s Day,) it’s leaning to the side as is its custom during the 12 Days of Christmas, and the ornaments are taking themselves down (with a mini thud!) The Christmas “spew” extends well beyond the tree to the fireplace mantel, hearth, the piano and into the dining room, and it will…for at least another week. Yes, it STILL looks like Christmas in here and everywhere we go…even if it’s the regurgitated type. Falalalala Lalalala!
I get obsessed with decorations and decorating the house. I keep it tasteful outside, but when you get inside it is a bit like Blackpool illuminations, I go BONKERS! –Johnny Vegas
Stay tuned for Christmas Trilogy, Part 3: The Sticky Nativity
BIG THANKS to those of you who have been following my blog, hymningandhaing.com. As my blog enters its fifth year, I am proud of the 83 posts I have penned to date and the positive feedback that I have received—it fuels my desire to write more! I am grateful for the fun comments, insights, post shares and encouraging words that you have offered throughout my blogging endeavor. I look forward to 2016 and all the writing opportunities it will bring!
Happy blog-iversary, hymningandhaing.com!!!