Around this time of year I can get a little blue or down. When the blues DO hit, I pull this out and reread it until I again remember what this season is REALLY all about.
May it also carry you back to those special people and times now gone and what THEY meant to you.
Merry Christmas -- and God bless us every one!
In a few days, much of the Christian world celebrates Christmas. Please forgive me if this sounds somewhat self-indulgent but, though the specific details will certainly vary, I think it's more than possible that many of you will identify with what follows.
For about a month now, I, like a lot of you, have found myself growing increasingly melancholy as I drift back to wonderful memories of Christmases past and loved ones now long gone.
I was blessed with good parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. I never knew my mother's father. He died when I was still a baby. And, though I loved them and they loved me, my Dads folks were very reserved and "proper" people. Having raised 5 of their own, perhaps there wasn't a great deal of them left for that many grandkids.
I smell the pungent pine aroma of a Christmas tree and suddenly I'm back in the modest living room in the little house on Hall Avenue in Lakewood, Ohio. Mom, Dad and my brother Karl, sister Jeanine and two cats and two dogs anxiously await the arrival of Grandma Grace and Aunt Helen, my mother's Mom and sister and, for a lot of reasons, next to Mom and Dad, our favorite people in the whole world.
They were not rich in any material sense, but they worked hard and on Christmas Eve made the long and, in Cleveland at that time of year, frequently treacherous trip along the southern shore of Lake Erie to the West Side. They were in show business and because they spent many hours on the road, Helen always drove the biggest car they could afford. It was usually a behemoth of a 4 door Oldsmobile.
Around 6:30 or 7 pm, we 3 kids would gravitate to the stairs facing the large full windowed front door and sit like fans in the bleachers at a ballgame. Every few minutes one of us would turn to Mom or Dad to ask: "When will they be here?" or "What time is it?" The sound of the crisp new snow crunching under the tires of each approaching car would bring us to our feet. Leaping to the door, wed press our noses to the frigid panes, hoping to be the first to spot their Olds sliding to a stop in the unique cold and gloom for which Cleveland winters are justifiably infamous.
Then the long awaited cry goes up. "THEY'RE HERE -- THEY'RE HERE!! We've had our coats on for 20 minutes and now fly down the porch stairs, slip and slide down the walk and there it is: A BACK SEAT CONTAINING 3 HUGE WICKER LAUNDRY BASKETS PILED TO THE CEILING WITH BRIGHTLY WRAPPED GIFTS! Hugs and kisses all around, a great deal of squealing and Dad and Mom and Grandma and Helen and kids struggle under the load and somehow manage to get it all into the house where it joins the sizable quantity of goodies already under the tree.
The addition of the contents of the back seat of Helen's car creates a traffic problem as the new arrivals spill out from under the tree into the archway between the living and dining rooms.
Now, it's true that Christmas is about much, much more than abundance and gifts. But when the abundance and gifts are surpassed by the love that flowed between three kids and these two totally unselfish and wonderful women, it transcends the material and becomes something special. And it has helped me to understand the love God must have for us to have sent His only begotten Son to take away the sins of those of us who believe in Christ Jesus.
These two women were, as are we all, here for just a brief time and they and our folks now repose in Lakewood Park Cemetery. But even today, 40 years later, I can still hear the merry tinkle of Helen's laughter as we opened our gifts. I can still hear my Grandmother warning me, with great gravity, that all that candy would make me sick. Of course, she was right! And as long as I live, they -- and my Dad and Mom and all the others who have gone on -- will live also.
And it is those incredibly warm memories of departed loved ones and a much simpler life that brings the melancholy this time of year -- that brings a tear when I hear one of the old carols. "O Holy Night" gets me every time. I have many favorite carols, but none so beautifully and correctly -- summarizes the true meaning of Christmas.
What wonderful words:
"Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
till He appeared and the soul felt His worth."
A thrill of hope the weary soul rejoices,
For yonder breaks the new and glorious morn,
Fall on your knees,
O, hear the angel voices!
O, night divine,
O, night when Christ was born!
It's all there, isn't it? The sin of this fallen world! The salvation from that sin Christ offers all! The need for us to surrender to Him and His Grace for that salvation! Yeah, it's all there!!
And it is that knowledge which finally brings me out of my seasonal melancholy. That and my understanding that I now must be to MY grandchildren the positive and loving influence that my Grandmother and my Aunt Helen were to us. I'm certain that they, too, suffered the same melancholy and feelings of loss over those who had preceded them. After my Mother died, we found her early diaries. In one of them, she wrote that Helen fainted at their Dads graveside. But except for an occasional inexplicable and swiftly brushed away tear or a little crack in their voices as they spoke about their early years -- often during the playing and singing of the old carols -- it seldom visibly surfaced. They felt an obligation to keep this most joyous of seasons just that, joyous!
And so must we all who call ourselves Christians.
Oh, I'm not saying that we must never allow ourselves to shed tears for OUR departed loved ones. To do otherwise would be a futile and unhealthy effort to deny the very humanity with which God imbued us all.
But after we shed those tears, we must yield to our spiritual side and offer our praise and thanks -- and joy -- to Him for sending Jesus.
We must finally remember that our joy at this time of year flows from the fact that "God so loved the world, that He sent His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life."
You see, my temporary melancholy succumbs to the certain long-term knowledge that I'll see my dear Grandmother, my beloved Aunt Helen, my Dad and Mom and the others again some day.
In the meantime -- Happy Birthday Jesus.
And a Merry Christmas to all of you.
I decided to add my favorite cookies to the thread.
Caramel Cookies From Kristy's Recipe box.
AKA: Death by Carmel Cookie :)
"Based on an old South American spoon treat."
Yields 20 cookies.
1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
1/2 cup shortening, chilled and diced
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cubed
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg yolk
1 cup heavy cream, chilled
1/3 cup confectioners' sugar for decoration
1) To Make Filling: Pour the condensed milk into a heavy saucepan. Cook over medium heat until hot. Stirring constantly, lower the heat to low and continue to cook the milk takes on a golden color, about 20-25 minutes. Remove from heat and add vanilla. Transfer to a bowl and cover directly with plastic wrap. Set aside and let cool to room temperature.
2) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
3) Combine the flour, 3 tablespoons confectioners' sugar, and the salt in a bowl. Cut in the shortening and the butter until crumbly. Beat in the yolk and the cream. Mix to form a dough, adding more cream if necessary.
4) Roll dough on a floured counter to 1/8 inch thick. Cut into 2-1/2 inch rounds and place on ungreased sheets. Prick the top of the rounds a few times with a fork.
5) Bake for 12-15 minutes or until the edges are light brown. Cool on sheet 1 minute and remove to rack. Spread the filling on one half and sandwich with another round. Dust cookies with confectioners' sugar.