Christmas was imprinted in me by my mother. A naturally ebullient and gregarious whirlwind, Marguerite leapt at the chance to express her true self when her world joined her in acknowledging and celebrating the joy and the good news of the coming of Jesus, God-in-person, to human persons and systems. She had permission to sing, decorate, bake and give thoughtful tokens to those who were important to her. As I come into the season and celebration each year, including this one which is so clouded with the illness and crisis of loved ones, I find that Marguerite’s first tutoring in Christmas never leaves me.
She taught me that Christmas was about music, both creating it and listening to its creation. Unhampered by any awareness of a liturgical calendar, she plunged right into the singing of carols the week after Thanksgiving. She had no use for songs of reindeer and santas; in fact, Santa Claus was taboo in our Christmas world, because Christmas was about Jesus. In nightly family prayers we would sing through the paper Christmas carol books over and over each day until Christmas was over. She favored the English carols: “What Child Is This?”, “God Rest Ye, Merry Gentleman,” and maybe her favorite, “Good Christian Men, Rejoice,” with its chorus of “Christ is born today!” (Inclusive language never entered her landscape in her lifetime!) My musical inheritance of that mode of celebration of Christmas is in my bones and marrow. On a non-verbal level, today the mingling of sacred text, melody and harmony of the Evangel sinks into the fibers of my being both as witness to the Light for which I have been longing during Advent and as window for expression of my own heart’s gratitude and praise for the coming of Immanuel, God-with-us.
I also learned from her that as much fun as it was to open stockings and packages on Christmas morning, the real fun was to be had in listening carefully to the people I loved and imagining what gifts I could offer that suited them exactly. She was an oral history in progress all of her life, and so as a child I was treated to stories of her early years as a missionary in China, a tall gregarious American extrovert, placed among severe, reserved Senior Missionaries, in a remote village. Even in that location of extremity, she found a way to make little stockings for each one with oranges and pencils and note paper, tied with ribbons, affixed with Christmas greetings of celebration. When no one wanted to join her carol choir, she sang carols alone, until someone eventually would come along side her in praise and worship. In my own childhood, I knew that my gifts would not be expensive or trendy, but that they would be given with thoughtfulness, particularity and love. One of my mother’s favorite Christmas expressions was to choose tiny book to wrap and inscribe for each person in her Bible study classes or women’s circle at church. And in each neighborhood she inhabited over the years, people could expect to get an individually wrapped box of at least seven kinds of home made cookies that she baked, replete with a personal message of affection and appreciation. It was not a gift of necessity or obligation, just a gifts of pure Christmas is about giving with an open heart; my heart is even now grateful for that gift she gave me by giving as she did.
I have read the prophetic wailings and whinings again this year about Christmas, the holiday, being adrift from its true meaning and practice. I am glad that there are people who call us to integrity about the way we honor the coming of Christ as followers of the Way. But I find that I am never confused about what I am about at Christmastide because of the implicit teaching I received from Marguerite. I am celebrating the birthday of Jesus, the Son of God, with joy, gratitude and an open heart. That celebration leads me to sing, to give and to be grateful…for what she gave me and, therefore, for what I have to give to those I love and to the world God loves.
Love and Joy come to you…God bless you and send you a happy New Year!