Tag Archives: Nativity

Christmas is always today’s gift.

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For Christmas decor, I give you these lighted redwood trees in my town.

Because at my house, there is a wreath on the front door, and one on the playhouse door, and that’s it! I am so busy planning and packing for a long trip, starting with Christmas at Pearl’s in Wisconsin, that I had no room in my mind or schedule for more than that.

I’m not even baking! Soldier and his family were just here for a couple of days and I found a Sugar Plum Cake from last Christmas in the freezer, to eat for breakfast. It’s a stöllen sort of bread, the recipe for which was handed down from my Aunt Bettie; the grandchildren particularly liked the little colored bits in it.

If I were going to be home this year, I’d certainly find a new cookie recipe in this book which was gifted to me by one of the children:

But I’m not, so I’ll share a few cookies and cookie stories from the past:

Two recipes from my cookie tray

A traditional seedy one

I don’t think I love Christmas as much as my late husband did, but I enjoyed all the aspects of preparing and shopping better when he was still around. And his voice leading us in carol-singing! Oh yes.

For almost twenty years I’ve been learning about the riches of the Orthodox Church, which include an appreciation for the Incarnation on a level I never found elsewhere. It’s thrilling to focus on Christ’s Nativity this month, but the story of a baby in a manger would become boring after a few years if it were merely a historic event to think about. The soul requires more than thought, more than history, and this holy feast is an event that we can abide in the way the branch abides in the Vine. It makes possible our participating in that Life, in the ever arriving Today.

What happens in the present is connected in lovely and helpful ways to the past by what we retain and remember. Here are two more articles from the archives, on Christmasy things:

What Christmas trees teach

Reading the Nativity icon

Tradition is a word that comes up a lot during holiday seasons. Some people find great comfort in keeping customs like baking cookies and visiting Santa, but at the same time try to craft their own individual version of fundamental human personhood. I found this little Facebook posting to be thought-provoking:

Every human being born into this world starts as a traditionalist. What we have, what we begin with, is handed down to us from everyone and everything that has gone before. The rejection of that tradition is not only absurd, it is ungrateful. [Tradition is] also inescapable. We cannot become self-created. What we have is a gift. What we are is revealed as we fulfill that gift.

Be thankful. You are God’s gift to the world.

-Father Stephen Freeman

From each Christmas to the next, and every day in between,
“God is with us!”

A star has been born in it.

THE NATIVITY OF CHRIST ~ A MEDITATION

…The greatest mystery of the Incarnation is that, having happened once in history, it recurs  in every person that comes to Christ. In the deep silence of the night the Word of God became incarnate on earth: this is how the Word becomes incarnate in the silent depths of our soul, where our mind lapses into silence, where words run out, where our spirit stands before God.

Christ was born on earth unknown and unrecognized, for only the Magi and the shepherds went out to meet him. In the same way, quietly and unrecognizably to others, Christ is born in a human soul, and it comes out to meet him, because a star has been born in it, leading to the light

We mysteriously recognize Christ in us during prayer, when we discover that our prayer has been accepted and heard, that God ‘came and abode in us’ and filled us with his life-bearing presence. We encounter Christ in the Eucharist, when, having received his body and blood, we feel that our own body is penetrated by his divine energy, and the blood of God runs though our veins.

We encounter Christ in other sacraments of the Church, when through union with him we are renewed and revived unto eternal life. We encounter Christ in our neighbors, when we gain sight of his innermost depth where the image of God shines. We encounter Christ in our everyday life, when amidst its noise we hear his beckoning voice or when we see his manifest intrusion into the course of history.

Precisely so — unexpectedly and suddenly — God intruded into the life of humanity twenty centuries ago, when by his birth he turned the course of history. Precisely so is he born again and again in the souls of thousands of people, changing, transforming and transfiguring their lives, making believers out of non-believers, saints out of sinners, saved out of dying.

When, around two thousand years ago, the Divine Infant was born, the angels sang: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men’ (Lk 2:14). In our days the world yearns for peace and good will. In the very place where Christ was born there is war, and Bethlehem itself is under siege. The Christian Church prays for peace in the Holy Land and in other countries for the forces of good to triumph over the forces of evil. May the Divine Child born in Bethlehem grant peace to the entire world, and good will to all its people.

—Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) of Volokalamsk

Wait until after this date – Christmas

Tolkien’s Northern Lights

One of our children has a birthday on Pearl Harbor Day, which is today. So as not to take away from the specialness of that child’s celebrations, in the past we didn’t get into the swing of Christmas until the 8th, and even St. Nicholas Day passed without any notice, because in that era even I wasn’t cued in to feast days.

Now I’m thankful for that habit of delaying, which makes it easier to practice my present Orthodox unwillingness to jump ahead too much. And every day, every week in the church calendar holds a rich and festive remembrance of a person of faith or an event in our salvation history, so that the Waiting for Christmas period is full of bright days that make the time pass quickly. St. Nicholas, for example. But that holy man was at the center of much childlike fun yesterday, and we are moving on already!

Following our family traditions, then, Mr. Glad and I give ourselves permission to get and decorate a tree as early as tomorrow. Still I drag my feet, so as to nudge the bulk of merrymaking toward the Twelve Days of Christmas, the old-fashioned time to rejoice and feast. Our son-in-law fondly remembers Christmas in Ireland when for two weeks after Christmas many people were on vacation, and shops were closed. So much for the cash-register noise.

As we decorate the house, there are a dozen childlike joys to partake of, often involving memories of Christmases of 20 or even 50 years ago. And some of those are bittersweet, as memories can be. When Gus the Cat was still alive he made us laugh, the way he stalked the tree lights. This picture is a little bit sad for me, because we don’t have him anymore.

I like the tradition of keeping back the Baby Jesus from the crèche until Christmas Day; the manger waits empty until then. But in my Nativity set, the baby is glued to the manger, so He is forced to “arrive” way early. At least, these Santas are alone and in this photo they are sort of in the dark so far. Their situation changes when the Light of the World comes to earth.

Some of the participants in Pom Pom‘s Childlike Christmas party have written about their own memories of Christmas when they were children. Though it didn’t occur to my philosophical mind at first, it seems obvious now that what each of us retains with fondness of our own most distant Christmases Past will influence the definition of childlike for us.

Waiting for Christmas – GJ on the right.

The black-and-white photo below shows a glimpse of Christmas as it was for me before I can remember, and it was taken at my grandma’s house in Berkeley, where we never gathered for Christmas the years that I can remember.

The important thing is that the picture is connected to my maternal grandma, and without fail we knew that Christmas had arrived when my grandma and grandpa’s car announced their coming by the crunching of the driveway gravel, and the trunk was opened to reveal its overfull load of wrapped presents, pies and sweet rolls. My siblings and I helped carry all the gifts from that bottomless hole into the house, and we piled them under the tree, from which they spread outward like an extravagant wave across the living room rug.

The pies and breakfast goodies were set out on the service porch where the temperature was cool enough to keep them for a day or two; after Christmas Eve dinner a slice of pie would always be set on the hearth so that Santa could have a snack that night when he stopped by.

My grandma and I are not in this photo.

The photo shows my mother at right, holding a doll that I imagine was given to me that year, when I was only two. I like seeing that my grandpa, my cousins and my spinster aunt were there with us. And my grandma’s beautiful furniture that I loved!

Now about the colorful picture at the top of this page: I have an edition (Houghton Mifflin, 1999) of the collected illustrated letters that J.R.R. Tolkien wrote to his children from Father Christmas, and I’d like to tell about them even though I haven’t even read them all myself yet, much less to any children or grandchildren.

For over 20 years the Tolkien children received letters from Father Nicholas Christmas, often near to Christmas Day, but sometimes as early as October 31st. For all the ice and snow pictured, the drawings give the impression of a very cozy group at the North Pole, including Polar Bear and other helpers.

illustration including Polar Bear

This year, several of my grandchildren will be around in advance of Christmas Day and for a full week ! so perhaps we can read a few together. Or perhaps not, as I already have a long mental list of all the lovely things I can do with the children whom I haven’t had with me at Christmas for so many years.

Some of the pretty stamps

I’m looking forward to an abundance of time to “waste” just being together for the Blessed Feast of the Nativity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This year I don’t have to have a long-distance Christmas relationship such as Father Nicholas Christmas had with the Tolkien children. But I bet I am just as busy as he before The Event as I scurry with my ribbons and lists around my cozy winter house.