I hope that you have enjoyed the season and that Christmas Day will be an occasion of joy for you even if your circumstances are not what you would wish or hope them to be. At my age, I have experienced enough to realize that, even though the celebration of Christmas is intended to be a time of joy and gift giving, everyone does not experience joy and goodwill in equal proportions. Sometimes, circumstances hold the potential to rob us of some of the joy we hope for. However, I believe that we can exercise some control over the extent to which circumstances hinder our celebration and enjoyment of Christmas.
I acknowledge that the most pleasurable Christmas celebrations personally have been those when all the family was together. I remember as a child that gift exchange time for our family was a time that started with all of us gathering around, settling in, and listening to my dad read the biblical accounts of the birth of Christ. He stressed to us the conviction that Christmas was a celebration of the birth of Christ, our Savior, not an affirmation of Santa Claus.
As an adult, I experienced great joy at having the family together and watching first my children and later my grandchildren enjoy exchanging gifts. One tradition we continued was opening gifts one at a time. This was tough on impatient youngsters, but it allowed both the gift recipient and the gift giver to more fully share the moment than did everyone opening presents at once.
This year is different for Carol and me. Our children are grown and so are our grandchildren. With multiple family responsibilities, job responsibilities, and other contributing circumstances, this will be our first Christmas without a houseful on Christmas Day. Nonetheless, we expect it to be a day of joy. We can still celebrate the real reason for the holiday. Christmas Eve we will have a grandson and his wife with us for supper along with Carol’s brother and sister and their families. The day after Christmas we will journey north to Olathe, Kan., to visit a daughter and also see a grandson and his wife and children.
Although Christmas may be memorable for the joy you experience, circumstances some year or years may have made Christmas memorable for you for reasons other than the joy of the occasion. Such circumstances may include illness, job loss, a tragedy within your family, death of a family member or members since the last Christmas, separation from family, etc.
My choice is to focus on memories of Christmas as a family time, but I am compelled to admit that one of the most memorable Christmas Days for me was not one spent with family. Instead, it was one spent away from family.
It was Christmas 1957, and it wrapped up an interesting year of my life. In April that year, Carol and I got married. In May, I graduated from Stillwater High School. In July, I reported to active duty with the U.S. Navy, and in September I was a wet-behind-the-ears, 18-year-old sailor aboard the light cruiser USS Roanoke CL 145 at sea on my first Western Pacific deployment. At Christmas, we were sailing in the South China Sea on standby to help evacuate Americans from Indonesia should the crisis there demand it.
On Christmas Day, we had been at sea several weeks, and the only thing in sight was ocean. Fortunately, it was a calm sea, but my emotions were not calm. What a way to celebrate your first Christmas away from home. I admit to shedding a few tears and lamenting my fate of not being home for Christmas, especially the first Christmas after getting married. However, I also have to confess that though the memory overall is not a pleasant one, it is one I can smile a little about because of the way my two best friends and I celebrated the occasion.
We decided to make the best of it. My buddies, Don Methvin of Abilene, Tex., and John Nizzi of Albuquerque, NM, and I got together on the main deck, talked a short time about what our families probably were doing, and then sang a few Christmas carols and songs like Jingle Bells. Methvin played his guitar, and Nizzi and I just chimed in off key.
However, we did have a touch of home throughout this three-man celebration—homemade cookies. You see, I was most fortunate because my wife, my mom, and my mother-in-law frequently sent me boxes of homemade cookies, and a few days before Christmas a helicopter had made a mail delivery to the ship. In that mail had been some cookies, though I don’t remember how many boxes. Enough that we had some to share Christmas Day. Actually, they were mostly crumbles and chunks of cookies as it was almost impossible for the cookies to survive the trip from Stillwater to our ship intact. A whole cookie was a rarity, and selfishly I reserved most of those for myself. It mattered not to the three of us that we were eating crumbs and chunks of primarily chocolate chip and peanut butter cookies, my favorite homemade cookies. Whatever shape they were in, they were cookies from home.
Fortunately, Carol and I will be together for Christmas Day this year. In addition to celebrating the birth of Christ, I hope we remember to think of those whose day may not be as filled with joy as ours.
Merry Christmas to each and every one of you!