You hear a lot of talk this time of year about the "true" meaning of Christmas. There are the faint voices of a family of the faithful who believe - and celebrate that belief - in putting Christ back in Christmas. The holiday is to most people, however, a time to spend money on gifts, to make money off the spenders, and to wake up on Christmas morning and receive from the spenders that which they purchased. I really don't have a big problem with this. It may be lamentable but you can't make the non-believer believe.
But there is another side to the Christmas holiday; one you cannot fathom unless you have an ever-increasing number of years behind you. It is only with age that the melancholy side of the Christmas holiday grows profound; as more and more of those you love and had celebrated the holiday with in the past leave this earth and are no longer there to be with you to decorate the tree or to prepare the Christmas candy or string the Christmas popcorn - or to open gifts on Christmas morning. Ever again. Grandparents. Father. Friends.
The ever-growing list includes, as well, the names of loved ones who were never able to be there to celebrate even one Christmas with you but who you've kept close to your heart - if not in your conversations - and for whom you had a lifetime of plans that were cut short. A daughter.
I remember when I was very young, my grandmother would come over to our house to celebrate Christmas with my two brothers, sister, and me. The night before Santa came was a special night because she would help bake cookies and pies for the next day's feast. In the course of preparing the various foods for the Christmas dinner, she would take out a sifter and pour flour through it before using it to bake bread. It's funny how your memory holds on to tiny flashes of the past. It may have something to do with the fact that the sifter - and my grandmother - are fond memories. Cherished memories.
Life is like that flour sifter in a way. When you're young, you gather an abundance of people around you with whom you hope to celebrate. As you age, however, more and more of your loved ones pass - like flour through the sieve - and become ... cherished memories.
This is the melancholy side of Christmas. Along with the joy that I feel knowing that I'll be able to be with my wife, children and grandchildren on Christmas, I also long to celebrate - just one more time - with an ever-growing number of those from my past; those who are gone from this earth forever.
And I look forward to the day when we will all be together as a family once again and celebrate Christmas as we did so many years ago. Grandparents, Dad, Jeri Ann. What a celebration it will be.
A CHRISTMAS OF LONG AGO
By Morton Bryan Wharton
I am thinking tonight in sadness
Of a Christmas of long ago,
When the air was filled with gladness,
And the earth was wrapped in snow;
When the stars like diamonds glistened
And the night was crisp and cold,
As I eagerly watched and listened
For the Santa Claus of old.
The forest was robbed of its treasures,
The house was a mass of green,
And I reveled in Christmas pleasures,
At the dawn of Aurora's sheen;
Some talked of the Savior's mission,
But I of my pretty toys;
Some knelt in devout petition -
I romped and played with the boys.
We went to the pond for skating,
To the stable to take a ride,
And we found new joys awaiting,
To whatever spot we hied;
But the climax of my story
Was that evening's fireworks show!
Went out in a blaze of glory -
That Christmas of long ago!
But in sadness I think of that Christmas,
For many then happy and gay
Have gone to the realm of silence
And sleep in their beds of clay;
The hands that filled kindly my stockings,
I shall grasp in this world no more,
But when at Heaven's portals I'm knocking
They'll open the beautiful door.
They will lead me in tenderness clinging,
And place me before the throne,
Where the choirs angelic are singing
And the heavenly gifts are strown,
And there in the realm of glory,
With my loved ones at my side,
I'll repeat the old Bethlehem story
And join in the Christmas tide.
May you and all your loved ones have a very Merry Christmas
* Originally published on December 12, 2004