My Most Unforgettable Christmas – A Reprise


California Sagebrush

California Sagebrush


Speaking of the trappings of Christmas as I did yesterday, I thought it might be fitting to do a look back to what I wrote in other years about the things that surround Christmas.

– – – – –

When I was seventeen, I lived with my family in Tanzania for a year. I’d never traveled much and really had no desire to live outside the US. But I didn’t feel particularly ready to launch out on my own, so I spent that last year “at home” in a country that gave no pretense to being a Christian nation.

It was an unusual feeling as the holiday season rolled around. No one was decorating for Christmas or playing carols. Not even Santa made an appearance.

We did our best to uphold our traditions. We conjured up a plant we called a Christmas tree–more like a large bit of sagebrush. We had no lights or ornaments or tinsel, so we imitated pioneers of old and made things to hang for decorations.

We started with strings of popcorn. This is not as homey and romantic as it first seemed. For one thing, the popcorn liked to break apart as much as it liked to have a string passed through it. For another, it was tedious work. But at last that poor, sad, drooping sorry excuse for a Christmas tree had something on it we could pretend to be decorations.

The best part truly was shopping. We had to travel the two hundred miles south from our town to the capital city of Dar es Salaam. We spent a day, maybe two prowling the stores to find gifts for each other–things that would be useful and memorable and beautiful. We wrapped our gifts in some paper I’m sure my mom found which came the closest to Christmas wrapping, then we piled them under the Sorriest Christmas Tree ever. I mean, ours made Charlie Brown’s tree look ritzy.

I don’t remember the details of that day. What I do remember is the love and laughter and joy we shared. The gifts weren’t about getting what we wanted. That was already out the window–we weren’t getting the latest or greatest or newest or most stylish. Rather, the gifts were an expression of the love and thoughtfulness each of us put into them. Like the tree, they were more on the sorry side–not ultimate treasures, not even diamonds in the rough. But getting stuff wasn’t the point. Exchanging expressions of love and being together was what we cared about.

I’m pretty sure we read the Christmas story—it was a bit of family tradition, and we probably opened up one present Christmas Eve. We may have awakened to the strains of Handel’s Messiah, too. There may have even been a church service that day. These things would be part of the norm, so I don’t remember them particularly.

But that tree was one of a kind, and I’ll never forget it. Nor will I forget living in a country that considered Christmas little more than another day of the year. For the first time, I got a glimpse of how a Christian heritage leaves an imprint on a culture.

Just like footprints, though, which wind or waves or time can erase, the impact of Christianity can fade unless one generation passes along to the next what Christianity is all about. Not hanging lights or singing carols at a certain time each year, mind you. In fact, the real impact of Christianity has much more to do with what happens before and after December 25 than it does on that particular day.

But it doesn’t hurt to create a memorable Christmas Day. Traditions are great, but what sets apart one Christmas from another is the unusual or different. Like a sad looking imitation of a Christmas tree. 😀

Published in: on December 13, 2017 at 4:54 pm  Comments (1)  
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Christmas Trees


christmas-time-1408534-mReal or plastic?

When I was growing up, real was the only way, in part because it was the cheapest way. I sort of felt sorry for people who had to have fake trees. They came in all kinds of outlandish colors, looking more like gigantic sno-cones than evergreen trees. They had a real feel of the future, though, made from plastic or metallic foil, as they were.

And then came a twist–fake trees made to look like the real thing.

Suddenly there was an attraction to fake trees: no yearly expense for a new one, no need to remember to water it, no messy needles to clean up. The downside? I suppose the initial payout might be steep, and for those of us who enjoy the fragrance of pine, that’s missing. Of course, there’s the loss of tradition, too, since families won’t be heading to a Christmas tree lot one cold night after Thanksgiving, picking out a tree, loading it on top of their car, and setting it up in their living room.

Still, for many, there seems to be a lot more up side than down to these artificial trees.

Of course, there is also the issue of decorating trees. Should the lights be multicolored or all of one uniform color? Are the ornaments classical and identical or are they handmade and representative of a person or family’s interests and activities? Do you use tinsel? A star or an angel?

Christmas_tree_in_TexasLike Christmas presents, Christmas trees and lights and all the decorations, for that matter, occupy a good amount of money, time, and energy during this busy season. For those locked in bleak climates of white snow and gray clouds, the colorful reds and greens of Christmas can be a refreshing break to the monotony and drabness of winter that has just set in.

So is there a Christian worldview of Christmas trees and all the accompanying decorations?

I think so. I think there’s a Christian worldview of everything, though that will not play out the same from one home to another, let alone from one country to another. Nevertheless, I think the Bible gives us some guidance.

First, God, in laying out what His tabernacle was to look like, included beautiful things. He included candles and incense and fine priestly garments. He gave detailed instructions for a gold table and cherubs and an ark. He specified the handcrafted curtains with an intricate design.

In other words, creating beautiful things and a beautiful atmosphere was part of creating a place of worship. Can that translate into our homes, especially when all that we do at Christmas time is not concerned with worship?

Well, there’s the real point, isn’t it. Shouldn’t a Christian’s life be about worship? I mean, our bodies, Scripture says, are temples of the Holy Spirit. So why wouldn’t our homes, where we spend time day in and day out, be as significant as, say, our church?

I’m not saying decoration is mandated in Scripture, but clearly having beautiful things, especially at a time of celebration, is consistent with what God instituted for the nation Israel.

I also think Christmas trees and decorations can be a form of giving. I mean, chances are people in a family may have different ideas about the way things should look and how things should be done. The first gift a person can give, then, is peaceful assent. In other words, cheerfully and joyfully doing things the way the other person wants to do them.

Maybe it could be Johnny’s turn to be in charge of the decorations–picking the day when everything comes out of the attic or basement or storage bin and making the critical decisions where to put the manger scene and whether we’ll put tinsel on the tree.

The Christian worldview of Christmas trees and decorations, then, includes putting people first, aiming to be considerate and humble, not demanding and selfish.

Are trees and decorations the real meaning of Christmas? Far, far from it. But in and through the process and the enjoyment of the end results, God can be front and center, and wants to be–not by us forcing religious significance to the tree (which can be legitimately done, if a person wants to do it), but by using the occasion to be Christian–to be a worshiper, to be a person who loves and serves others.

Published in: on December 6, 2013 at 6:53 pm  Comments (2)  
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My Most Unforgettable Christmas


California Sagebrush

California Sagebrush


When I was seventeen, I lived with my family in Tanzania for a year. I’d never traveled much and really had no desire to live outside the US. But I didn’t feel particularly ready to launch out on my own, so I spent that last year “at home” in a country that gave no pretense to being a Christian nation.

It was an unusual feeling as the holiday season rolled around. No one was decorating for Christmas or playing carols. Not even Santa made an appearance.

We did our best to uphold our traditions. We conjured up a plant we called a Christmas tree–more like a large bit of sagebrush. We had no lights or ornaments or tinsel, so we imitated pioneers of old and made things to hang for decorations.

We started with strings of popcorn. This is not as homey and romantic as it first seemed. For one thing, the popcorn liked to break apart as much as it liked to have a string passed through it. For another, it was tedious work. But at last that poor, sad, drooping sorry excuse for a Christmas tree had something on it we could pretend to be decorations.

The best part truly was shopping. We had to travel the two hundred miles south from our town to the capital city of Dar es Salaam. We spent a day, maybe two prowling the stores to find gifts for each other–things that would be useful and memorable and beautiful. We wrapped our gifts in some paper I’m sure my mom found which came the closest to Christmas wrapping, then we piled them under the Sorriest Christmas Tree ever. I mean, ours made Charlie Brown’s tree look ritzy.

I don’t remember the details of that day. What I do remember is the love and laughter and joy we shared. The gifts weren’t about getting what we wanted. That was already out the window–we weren’t getting the latest or greatest or newest or most stylish. Rather, the gifts were an expression of the love and thoughtfulness each of us put into them. Like the tree, they were more on the sorry side–not ultimate treasures, not even diamonds in the rough. But getting stuff wasn’t the point. Exchanging expressions of love and being together was what we cared about.

I’m pretty sure we read the Christmas story–it was a bit of family tradition, and we probably opened up one present Christmas Eve. We may have awakened to the strains of Handel’s Messiah, too. There may have even been a church service that day. These things would be part of the norm, so I don’t remember them particularly.

But that tree was one of a kind, and I’ll never forget it. Nor will I forget living in a country that considered Christmas little more than another day of the year. For the first time, I got a glimpse of how a Christian heritage leaves an imprint on a culture.

Just like footprints, though, which wind or waves or time can erase, the impact of Christianity can fade unless one generation passes along to the next what Christianity is all about. Not hanging lights or singing carols at a certain time each year, mind you. In fact, the real impact of Christianity has much more to do with what happens before and after December 25 than it does on that particular day.

But it doesn’t hurt to create a memorable Christmas Day. Traditions are great, but what sets apart one Christmas from another is the unusual or different. Like a sad looking imitation of a Christmas tree. 😀

Published in: on December 3, 2012 at 5:44 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , , ,
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