Last week, our church had a family friendly Christmas service mid-week. There was a short Christmas play, Jesus There’s an App For That, performed by the kids, which included my sixteen year old son, Jaren. And, we had a Christmas sing-a-long throughout the service. When the congregation began to sing Silent Night, tears unexpectedly filled my eyes. My soul wanted to weep and I strongly held back a cry that my spirit wanted to release. I was remembering a time from my childhood. It’s the one time of the year that was almost always good and pure.
Each Christmas Eve we gathered over to my grandparents’ house. This was a tradition that had been going on for many years, which started with my mother, her siblings and cousins at my great grandparents’ home. Because they were chicken farmers, they had to get up early in the am to collect the eggs from the hens. So they gathered with their families, celebrated the spirit of Christmas with good food, delicious, traditional German sweets and schnapps, opening their Christmas gifts on the Eve of Christmas. Long after they retired from the chicken farming, this very special Christmas Eve tradition continued for the next several generations, with four and five generations all gathering in one very small country home. As children, we always wondered how Santa made it to our grandparents home so early. Santa didn’t drop by our home until sometime in the middle of the night. Our grandmother secretly disclosed that she had a special arrangement with Santa Claus.
One of the most treasured memories of the evening was singing Christmas carols. The last song was always the same. Silent Night. After singing all the holly jolly and jingle bells songs, this one always settled us kids and somehow magically transformed us from “Santa’s gifts” to “Jesus’s birth”. We lit the German tapers on the tree, turned the lights out and sang Silent Night. Then we would sit silently as the elders would sing it once more in German. As we gathered to go home, the children would gaze up to the evening sky and try to get a glimpse of Santa on his sleigh. Surely we saw him a time or two over the years. Then we would stop off at the Catholic Church for their midnight service; kneeling, praying and paying tribute by honoring Mary and her precious baby boy, Jesus while giving thanks to God and all His glory.
Of all the times in my youth, this one night is what I miss most about my childhood. If I could relive one moment or one day, I would surely choose this night just so I could experience the magic and our family tradition and listen to my grandparents sing Silent Night in their native language one more time.
Most people equate this time of the year with goodness, happy, treasured, and cherished moments. But sometimes the holidays can bring somberness and sorrow as well. It seems this year, many of my loved ones are experiencing this holiday in a way they have not experienced it before. And I cannot remember another year where so many of my extended family and friends have experienced such great losses.
Parents have lost sons; siblings have lost brothers, wives have lost husbands, and children have lost parents.
My son’s godfather lost the love of his life, Jose earlier this year. Jose was someone who loved life and he especially loved Christmas. But Jose’s health had been failing him over the past several years. My son’s godfather had cared dearly for his partner of nineteen years as he witnessed his partner’s health decline. This year, our dear Robert will spend Christmas for the first time without his loving partner, Jose.
For my son’s grandmother, she lost her soul-mate; her husband earlier this year. For the first time in forty plus years, she will not have her husband by her side Christmas morning.
For my dear friend, Sissy while her husband is still with us, he is suffering with severe Alzheimer’s; she has lost the man that she fell in love with more than thirty years ago. His loved ones have all become unrecognizable to him. Seeing him deteriorate every day is a struggle for us all. This may very well be the last holiday that he will spend in his home among family and friends on Christmas Eve.
For me, this time of the year is filled with mixed emotions. While I’ve enjoyed being able to see Christmas through Jaren’s childlike eyes through the years, this is also the time of the year when my second son, Noah was born and I said goodbye to my infant boy. While I have a wonderful relationship with Noah and his family, it seems every year I unconsciously still re-live that moment and loss to some extent. I feel guilty sometimes because I think about the mothers who will never be able to see their children again or share another Christmas holiday because their children are gone forever. And I think of the birthmothers who never get see their child, and the ones who wonder if their child is alive and well.
But the most heart wrenching of all was yesterday as I heard my coworker fall to her knees and cry out with disbelief that her husband of many, many years had just died unexpectedly. One of our very own, my cube neighbor, just got the hardest news only three days before Christmas. Her cries echoed throughout the third floor among hundreds of workers and there wasn’t anything anyone could do. With every cry she released, another person felt her pain until just about every eye in our office had tears. I realized today more than ever before how one does not have to directly experience hurt to feel pain. Pain can be seen. Pain can be heard. Her cries lingered on in my mind long after she left the building to be with her loved ones. Her life changed in one moment. This year and every year hereafter, she will take this experience with her for the remainder of her years here on earth.
I love Christmas. I love the lights, the songs, and the jolly atmosphere. I love giving more than receiving. And I love the true Christmas story. But I also know the truth; not everyone experiences the Christmas holiday the same.
So as you jingle through your holiday, and ho, ho, ho through this Christmas, please be kind to those who have experienced a great loss and help those in need find their way back to the spirit of Christmas. You might not need to say anything. All you may need to do is look compassionately into their eyes and give them a warm, comforting hug.
May God richly bless each and every one of you and may you have a very Merry Christmas!
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. Luke 2:14